MIAMI -- The Guantanamo parole board announced Thursday that it downgraded the dangerousness of a Yemeni once thought to have plotted post- 9/11 attacks in Pakistan, meaning that more than half of the prison's uncharged captives are now approved for release.
Former "forever prisoner" Hayl Aziz al Maythali, 39, can leave the detention center to arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the Periodic Review Board wrote. The panel recommended he go "only to an Arabic-speaking country," preferably a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council near his native Yemen. The U.S. won't repatriate Yemenis from Guantanamo because it considers the gulf nation with a potent al-Qaida franchise too unstable for peaceful reintegration into society.
Maythali went before the board June 30 with the assistance of his volunteer attorney of 11 years, Jennifer Cowan, who argued that the Yemeni had grown in his time at Guantanamo. When they first met, she said, she covered her hair at his request, did not shake his hand like male colleagues did and sat to the back of a meeting room. "Over time, these limitations disappeared," she told the panel.
With the latest decision, 34 of Guantanamo's 76 captives are now cleared for release. Ten others are charged at the war court and 16 are board-approved law of war detainees, known as forever prisoners. The last 16 captives await parole board hearings or decisions.
The board said it cleared Maythali to go because although he "admitted to fighting with the Taliban, he explained his rationale for doing so and articulated his regret."
The Yemeni, who has never been charged with a crime, got to Guantanamo on Oct. 28, 2002, and was profiled for years as a member of the so-called "Karachi 6." These were six Yemenis captured by Pakistani forces on suspicion they were plotting al-Qaida attacks in Pakistan's largest city.
But a U.S. intelligence profile released on the eve of his hearing said a new look at his file concluded he was probably in Pakistan, having fled Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, trying to return home to family in Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
His 2016 U.S. intelligence profile maintained that he trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, supported the fight against the Northern Alliance and "also may have been" a bodyguard in Osama bin Laden's security detail.
It also was dismissive of the notion of a Karachi 6 terror cell. "Based on a review of all available reporting, we judge that this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest," the profile said. "It is more likely the six Yemenis were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qaida planners considered potentially available to support future operations."
At Guantanamo, the Yemeni learned English, carpentry and cooking, according to a board filing by an unnamed U.S. military officer assigned to help Maythali make his case for release. "He does not blame America for his current situation, he blames himself for his actions," the advocate wrote the board.
Maythali also "probably has a close relationship with Maha el-Samnah," his most recent intelligence profile concluded in an apparent and unexplained reference to the mother of former Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, who was released to his native Canada in 2012. U.S. troops captured Khadr in Afghanistan at age 15. He was 26 when he was released to detention in a Canadian prison.
Maythali's attorney, Cowan, explained Thursday evening by email that while Khadr was at the prison camps her client "was protective of Khadr, given his age. So when Khadr was writing to his mother, Hayl would send greetings and best wishes.
"But I don't think he communicated with her beyond that and he has not communicated with her in any way since Khadr was released."