The Guantanamo parole board has decided that a Yemeni man once considered a candidate for trial, but never charged, is too dangerous to release, essentially rebranding him as a “forever prisoner.”
Suhayl al Sharabi, 39, got to Guantanamo in May 2002, months after his capture in Karachi, Pakistan. A January 2016 U.S. intelligence profile described him as a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and suspected would-be Sept. 11-style hijacker.
At Guantanamo, according to the profile, he has been a hard-line hunger striker who was forced from his cell to tube feedings more than 1,000 times before he quit the hunger strike in November 2014.
Sharabi went before the parole board in March. A U.S. military officer assigned to help him advocate for his release described Sharabi as a big supporter of Brazil’s national soccer team who “aspires to become a sports administrator for a soccer team someday.”
But the Periodic Review Board said in a brief decision released by the Pentagon on Friday that Sharabi should remain a law-of-war prisoner “to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” It was dated March 31.
This was the first instance of the parole board deciding that one of 36 captives designated for possible trial by the 2009-10 Guantánamo Review Task Force was too dangerous to release. The Periodic Review Board earlier approved the transfer of an Egyptian once considered a trial candidate, Tariq el Sawah. The U.S. military delivered Sawah to Bosnia Herzegovina for resettlement in January.
Like Sawah, Sharabi was never charged with a crime despite being so designated. More captives who were classified as trial candidates, but never charged, are in the Periodic Review Board pipeline.
The most recent U.S. intelligence profile does not make clear what kind of trial was recommended for Sharabi. It said he “trained as a militant” in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks but mostly describes his al-Qaida activities as aspirational.
“He was part of al-Qaida external operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks in Southeast Asia and traveled to Malaysia,” the profile said. But the board did not describe the evidence as conclusive, referring to Sharabi’s “possible participation in KSM’s plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks in Southeast Asia.”
Sharabi’s advocate, an unidentified U.S. military officer, told the board the Yemeni was saddened about the violence in his homeland, wants to be reunited with his family, and “wishes to stay out of any and all conflicts.”
The U.S. currently forbids the repatriation of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo. The U.S. military officer said Sharabi would prefer release to an Arabic-speaking country but “it is not necessary. Suhayl is willing to take part in a rehabilitation program and wants to make it perfectly clear to the Board that he is not a threat to the United States.”
The board did not agree. It noted his “lack of a credible plan for the future” without referring to his soccer team management aspirations and mentioned his “evasive and implausible response to basic questions.”