ARLINGTON, Va. (Reuters) - A U.S. national security panel weighed on Wednesday whether a suspected al Qaeda fighter from Yemen with a history of disciplinary problems should remain at the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
The Pentagon said the prisoner, Khalid Ahmed Qasim, 38, may have fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan and is suspected of joining al Qaeda. He has been detained without charge at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since May 2002.
A Defense Department profile said Qasim had committed hundreds of disciplinary infractions, including attacking and threatening guards and splashing bodily fluids on them. He also has taken part in a hunger strike.
“Let’s face it, his disciplinary record is not good,” his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said during the hearing before the Periodic Review Board.
Smith, of the London-based charity Reprieve, said Qasim should be transferred because other Guantanamo Bay prisoners with disciplinary problems had been resettled without becoming security threats to the United States.
He said Qasim had learned excellent English with fine penmanship and was studying Spanish with a view to a transfer to South America. Smith also questioned the truthfulness of Qasim’s accusers.
The Pentagon profile said that while being held, Qasim had regularly communicated with relatives who are involved in or sympathetic to extremism. They include a brother who was implicated in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen, in which 17 U.S. sailors died, it said.
The Periodic Review Board could take weeks or months to decide whether Qasim should continue to be held or be transferred to Yemen or another country.
About 20 minutes of the hearing was carried on closed-circuit television from Guantanamo Bay to a viewing site near the Pentagon.
U.S. President Barack Obama has promised to close the internationally condemned prison. It was opened in 2002 to house detainees in the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda, the militant movement founded by Osama bin Laden.
The prison holds 122 detainees and 54 of them have been approved for resettlement.
Reporting by Ian Simpson