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Guantanamo's New Purgatory

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Close Gitmo
Zak Newman,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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July 25, 2014

This piece originally appeared at Defense One.

Muhammad Murdi Issa Al-Zahrani sat at the center of the conference room table, his foot shackled to the floor.

He had chosen to attend his Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing at the last minute, deciding to endure what other detainees had called a "humiliating and degrading" groin search to participate in the review of his continued detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay prison since 2002. Writing furiously throughout the unclassified portion of his hearing, he appeared determined to make his case for release.

Tragically for Al-Zahrani, there is little cause for such hope in the PRB system.

The PRBs were designed to ease the sting of the administration's policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial at the prison camp. Begun a year ago today after more than two years of delay, they were to be an opportunity for indefinitely imprisoned detainees to challenge their detention through an administrative hearing. But in their first year, the hearings have largely only aggravated the practice of indefinite detention.

The glacial pace of the PRBs means that even the attempt at some due process for these men will come at an unacceptable delay – and very likely after President Barack Obama leaves office. When detainees do finally get a hearing, the PRBs provide little by way of real due process of law, and even detainees cleared by the PRB may stay stuck at the prison camp. If the boards are to ever meaningfully review detainees' detention, they must address these issues of delay, transparency, and legitimacy.

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