Ali Ahmad Mohamed al Razihi.
A review board set up to evaluate the cases of the remaining detainees held at Guantanamo has recommended that one of them be transferred.
The detainee, Ali Ahmad Mohamed al Razihi, has been held in Cuba since early 2002. He was a member of a group dubbed the “Dirty 30” by US officials. Members of the group, which included Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards, were captured in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001.
Razihi was described as a “high” risk to the US, its interests, and its allies in a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment dated June 30, 2008. JTF-GTMO also recommended that Razihi remain in detention.
The Guantanamo Review Task Force, which was set up by President Obama to review the detainee population, also recommended that Razihi remain in US custody. In January 2010, Razihi was one of 48 detainees the task force slated for indefinite military detention, meaning he was considered too dangerous to release or transfer, but also not a candidate for prosecution.
But the interagency Periodic Review Board, which regularly reviews the status of detainees, has now determined otherwise. In an unclassified summary released on April 23, the board said that Razihi’s detention “is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
The board considered Razihi’s “plans for the future and commitment not to repeat past mistakes,” finding him “credible on both issues.” The board also took into consideration Razihi’s “well-established, educated family with the willingness and ability to support him upon his return” to his native Yemen. Although the board noted that Razihi could be transferred to a third country, it “strongly” recommended that he be returned to Yemen, where he could rejoin his family.
The board also cited Razihi’s “lack of ties to at-large extremists,” as well as his “largely peaceful, non-violent approach to detention and his positive attitude toward future potential participation in a rehabilitation program,” as reasons for transferring him.
Still, the board said that Razihi’s transfer to Yemen should be made “with the standard security assurances,” noting that the security situation in the country must improve and a rehabilitation program be established.
Many of the detainees remaining at Guantanamo are from Yemen, which is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the strongest branches of al Qaeda. Since 2009, the insurgency in Yemen and AQAP’s attempted attacks on the US have complicated efforts to transfer more detainees there.
Alleged bodyguard for Osama bin Laden
In an unclassified profile provided to the Periodic Review Board, the US government argued that Razihi “almost certainly joined and trained with al Qaeda” after traveling from Yemen to Afghanistan in 1999. He also “almost certainly provided logistical support at al Qaeda guesthouses and, according to detainee reporting of questionable credibility, possibly served as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.”
“FBI and other interviews of Guantanamo detainees identified” Razihi “as a bodyguard for bin Laden, although one of them later recanted the allegation,” the government’s summary reads. The unclassified summary does not say which detainees fingered Razihi as a member of bin Laden’s security detail, but the leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment does.
At least three Guantanamo detainees identified Razihi as a bodyguard for bin Laden, according to the leaked JTF-GTMO file. One of them is Richard Dean Belmar, a British citizen who was transferred from Guantanamo to the UK in 2005. Belmar reportedly saw Razihi serving as bin Laden’s bodyguard at al Qaeda’s al Farouq camp, where Razihi was also trained.
A second detainee, Yasin Muhammad Basardah, “photo-identified” Razihi as a bin Laden bodyguard “on three separate occasions.” However, Basardah’s credibility has been drawn into question.
A third detainee, Mohammed al Qahtani, also identified Razihi as a bodyguard for al Qaeda’s founder. But Qahtani, who was subjected to coercive and abusive interrogation measures at Guantanamo after it was discovered that he intended to serve as the “20th hijacker” on 9/11, “subsequently retracted the claim.”
Qahtani himself was a member of the “Dirty 30.” And JTF-GTMO’s analysts pointed out that although Qahtani disavowed his previous allegation, Razihi’s “capture with the Dirty 30 indicates direct association with individuals who were highly trusted within al Qaeda.”
Still other Guantanamo detainees identified Razihi as an al Qaeda member who was trained at the al Farouq camp. Some of them told authorities that Razihi spent time at, and worked in, al Qaeda’s guesthouse.
Captured al Qaeda documents, including a “training application form,” also connected Razihi to the terrorist organization.
Uncooperative throughout his detention
During the more than a dozen years Razihi has been held in US custody, he has provided little information concerning his past. JTF-GTMO’s analysts surmised that Razihi may have served as part of bin Laden’s notorious 55th Arab Brigade, which fought alongside the Taliban and against the Northern Alliance in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Razihi has not admitted to playing this role, however.
The JTF-GTMO file notes that Razihi provided a “highly questionable and incomplete” account of his life. Razihi claimed that he traveled to Afghanistan “to teach the Koran and for religious studies,” which JTF-GTMO concluded was a cover story.
As of June 2008, when the JTF-GTMO threat assessment was authored, Razihi refused “to answer questions pertaining to his previous account of events,” which was “contradicted by numerous reports from previous and current” Guantanamo detainees.
The unclassified summary provided by the US government to the Periodic Review Board indicates that Razihi is still not cooperating. And the government was not as confident as the review board when it comes to Razihi’s prospects for reintegration into Yemeni society.
Throughout his detention, the government conceded, Razihi “has expressed nonextremist aspirations for his life after transfer.” However, the government said, there is not “sufficient information to assess whether his stated intentions are genuine.”
Razihi “has not provided information regarding al Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the government’s summary reads. Razihi “is non-cooperative and has avoided interviews since 2010.”
For these reasons, the government argued, it “is difficult to provide an accurate reengagement assessment.”