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Al-Bihani v. Obama

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Synopsis

Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani, ISN 128 In Dire Health & Detained for Over 12 Years Without Charge

Cleared for Transfer in 2014

"All I think about is the day my freedom will be given back to me, for it will be the day of my re-birth. I want to become a father and hold my baby in my arms, and provide for my family and to my child."
              
– Ghaleb Al-Bihani, December 2013, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba

Ghaleb Nasser Al-Bihani is a Yemeni citizen who was born in 1979 in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. In early 2002, Mr. Al-Bihani was transferred to Guantanamo, where he has been detained for over a decade without charge. He has been at Guantanamo for a third of his life so far. He is now 34 years old.

Mr. Al-Bihani has been imprisoned for the last 12 years on the basis of allegations that in 2001 he was an assistant cook for a Taliban-affiliated group that later disbanded. The D.C. district court upheld his detention on this basis, and the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed in an infamous opinion that initially disavowed the relevance of the laws of war in determining the scope of the government’s detention authority. His legal challenge ended when the Supreme Court refused to grant his request for certiorari in April 2011, as the Court has in every Guantanamo detainee petition since its landmark decision in Boumediene v. Bush in 2008.

Status

In September 2013, Mr. Al-Bihani received notification that his status would be reviewed by President Obama’s new Periodic Review Board (PRB), which would determine whether Mr. Al-Bihani will be approved for transfer or if his detention without charge will stretch further into a second decade. He was the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be reviewed, and appeared before the Board on April 8, 2014. In May 2014, the Obama administration approved Mr. Al-Bihani for transfer from Guantanamo.

Description

Mr. Al-Bihani’s attempts to challenge his detention in U.S. federal courts

On June 30, 2005, Mr. Al-Bihani filed a habeas corpus petition, Al Bihani v. Bush, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In January 2009, Judge Richard Leon denied his habeas petition, upholding his detention on the basis of Mr. Al-Bihani’s admission that he had been a kitchen aide for Arab forces supporting the Taliban in an Afghan conflict against the Northern Alliance before 9/11. Mr. Al-Bihani appealed that decision, and in January 2010, in its first substantive ruling on the merits of a Guantanamo detainee’s habeas case after Boumediane v. Bush, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief. In its ruling, the D.C. Circuit initially disavowed the relevance of international law in determining the scope of the government’s detention authority—a position even the government rejects.

After Mr. Al-Bihani filed for rehearing en banc in August 2010, the D.C. Circuit issued an opinion declining to endorse the previous claims about the irrelevance of international law, but affirming the denial of Mr. Al-Bihani’s habeas petition. As a last hope, Mr. Al-Bihani turned to the Supreme Court. In April 2011, the Court denied his petition for certiorari.    

Consequently, Mr. Al-Bihani, a former kitchen aide who was never accused of having raised arms against the United States, has lost over 12 years of his life at Guantanamo and continues to be held indefinitely. 

Mr. Al-Bihani’s Health Issues

Mr. Al-Bihani suffers from diabetes and related chronic pain. He has expressed that his “current circumstances have become unbearable,” and he has been described by medical authorities at Guantanamo as being high risk in terms of his health. His blood sugar level fluctuates dangerously, rising as high as 700 mg. He has also been hospitalized for weeks at a time over the past two years. 

"I want these people whom I never met to know that I am a human being just like them and I deserve to get a chance just like they do."

Looking to the future

Despite dealing with serious health problems and the emotional toll of his 12-year, indefinite detention, Mr. Al-Bihani has tried to make the best of his circumstances. He has endeavored to educate himself and learn skills to prepare for life after Guantanamo. 

He is an avid reader, requesting dozens of books over the years. He has also been learning English and Spanish, developing his GED proficiency, educating himself about his diabetes, and trying to cope with his anxiety and depression through exercise, including yoga. 

Mr. Al-Bihani has talked for years of his hopes for a new life, ideally in a new country. He hopes to become a father and start a family of his own, pursue his education and a career, and care for his health.  

In April 2014, Mr. Al-Bihani appeared before the Obama adminsitration's Periodic Review Board to demonstrate his efforts to prepare for a better future and his hopes for a new beginning. In May 2013, the Board approved Mr. Al-Bihani for transfer from Guantanamo, determining that his continued detention of more than 12 years is unecessary.

Timeline

Habeas Case

June 30, 2005:  Mr. Al-Bihani filed a habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. 

January 28, 2009: District Court Judge Richard Leon denied Mr. Al-Bihani’s habeas petition.
 
January 5, 2010: The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas.
 
August 31, 2010: The D.C. Circuit denied Mr. Al-Bihani’s petition for rehearing en banc.
 
 
Period Review Board (PRB) Process
 
September 25, 2013: The government notified Mr. Al-Bihani of his upcoming PRB review.
 
April 8, 2014: Mr. Al-Bihani’s PRB hearing.
 
May 2014: The Obama adminsitration's Periodic Review Board approved Mr. Al-Bihani for transfer from Guantanamo, and determined that his continued detention of more than 12 years is unnecessary.