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Guantanamo: Yemeni man will remain in prison despite US court ruling he is no threat

April 13, 2023 at 3:38 pm

Guantanamo Bay detention camp [Joint Task Force Guantanam/Flickr]

A Yemeni man held in Guantanamo Bay for over 20 years without charge or trial will remain in detention despite a US court ruling that he does not pose a threat to the country. In an opinion yesterday over the ongoing case of Abdulsalam Al-Hela, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that the authorities may not be allowed to keep a man imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay after he is no longer deemed a threat.

According to the Washington Post, Al-Hela, a businessman and tribal sheikh from Yemen, was captured in Egypt in 2002. He was held overseas for two years before being taken to Guantánamo. He has been contesting his detention in court since 2005 and was cleared for release two years ago.

Reporting on Al-Hela’s legal battle, the New York Times said that a Periodic Review Board in June 2021 approved the 55-year-old prisoner for transfer if the receiving country could fulfil security conditions. However, just like 10 other Yemenis at Guantanamo who have been approved for transfer, he cannot be repatriated because the US considers Yemen, which is in the middle of a civil war, to be too unstable to monitor his activities.

Since the latest ruling by the Periodic Review Board, major steps have been taken to end the war in Yemen. Delegations from Saudi Arabia and Oman have achieved “tangible progress” during peace talks with Yemen’s Houthi leaders currently taking place in the capital Sanaa.

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The DC Circuit returned Al-Hela’s case to a lower court to decide whether he should be released because the US no longer considers him a security threat. However, it was determined that the fact Al-Hela can be released is irrelevant.

“The Biden administration continues to fight in court to detain an individual, who the government says it doesn’t want to detain, in a prison the president says should be closed,” a senior staff attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, J Wells Dixon, is reported as saying in the Post. 

The ruling raised “a significant legal question… does the Constitution allow the government to continue to hold someone without foreseeable end simply because it hasn’t made sufficient efforts to transfer them?” Dixon added.

Any future appeals court ruling on that issue could have an impact on 16 other detainees who are being held at Guantanamo despite being approved for transfer. Some have been in such limbo for over a decade.