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Panel Considers Bin Laden Bodyguard's Stay At Guantanamo


Some other news now. One if the longest-term inmates of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp has had a parole hearing yesterday. He's a man from Yemen, allegedly a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald was among the reporters allowed to see a portion of parole hearing on a video screen.

CAROL ROSENBERG: We saw Abdul Malik Wahab al Rahabi, a man who arrived on the day that Guantanamo Prison opened, sitting at a table while his advocates made an argument that he should be allowed to someday go home.

INSKEEP: Now, just to make this clear, this is happening at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, but you were watching from just outside Washington, what, by video conference?

ROSENBERG: Yes. It was a 40 second delay video Skype feed of this hearing in which he and his advocates were speaking to a quasi-parole board here in the D.C. area, also by video feed, making an argument that he should be allowed to go home, see his 13 year old daughter, study, teach, and set up a business called the Milk and Honey Farming Cooperative with some other detainees who want to get out of Guantanamo.

INSKEEP: There are a variety of different kinds of detainees still at Guantanamo, which President Obama wanted to close years ago. There's talk of putting some of them on trial. Some of them are being released or already have been released. What category is this guy in?

ROSENBERG: He's an indefinite detainee. The administration says there's no evidence that he actually committed a crime so they could put him on trial but they have, until now so far, considered him too dangerous to let go.

INSKEEP: So were you witnessing what is supposed to be the process for these dozens of prisoners who fall in this category between being released and being tried? They're supposed to get some kind of parole hearing to determine their status?

ROSENBERG: Exactly. Remember, this came after a hunger strike last year that continues still inside the prison camp. And the president, President Obama, wanted this process started to give the detainees down there - there's 155 of them - a process by which they could imagine someday they might get out.

INSKEEP: Now, you were allowed a glimpse, at least, into the beginning of this parole hearing. How open has the administration been about what is happening with these prisoners?

ROSENBERG: Well, this comes against the backdrop of declining transparency down at the prison. They used to tell us, daily, how many people were on hunger strike. Earlier kind of status hearings we got to see in person in the same room as the detainee. This is a tiny little glimpse inside, and what we saw was a man dressed in white, like a compliant prisoner, swiveling in an office chair arguing that he's safe enough to go home now.

INSKEEP: OK. So we've got a guy who was on hunger strike, at least according to his lawyers, now seems to be compliant and reasonably well fed and he's going through this process. We don't know how it's going to end. Do you sense that the Obama administration then knows what it is going to do in the end, with everybody who's currently at Guantanamo, this facility that the president wants to close?

ROSENBERG: Absolutely not. This is part of the process of winnowing down. Remember, at the height of it or across the Guantanamo experiment, the Bush administration brought in 779 prisoners. We're down to the last 155. Six are on trial for their lives - they're death penalty proceedings. And the rest of them are held in a variety of categories from indefinite detainee to eligible for transfer, to could be let go with conditions.

ROSENBERG: And this proceeding that we saw yesterday is a continuation of the sorting. And it allows us to look inside and see a man, rather than a prisoner on his knees in an orange jumpsuit.

We, the media, asked to see him speak. We wanted to hear his argument. And the Pentagon found that too risky and let us watch a 19-minute slice in which we heard a pre-scripted opening argument in what should have been a daylong hearing.

INSKEEP: Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, thanks very much.

ROSENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.