Saudi Arabia on Monday fetched a prisoner from Guantánamo who was approved for release last year by the national security parole board, marking the start of the 15th year of the detention center in Cuba with 103 captives.
Mohammed Shimrani, 40, became the fourth captive transferred in six days as the Pentagon edges toward releasing 17 prisoners this month. Two were sent to resettlement in Ghana and a third was repatriated to Kuwait.
A Saudi jet collected Shimrani in keeping with a long-standing kingdom commitment to start its freed captives’ rehabilitation on the remote base airstrip. More typically, the U.S. Air Force delivers the captives to host nations.
Mr. al Shimrani looks forward to participating in the Saudi reintegration program, reuniting with his family and establishing a peaceful and productive life in his home country.
Martha Rayner, attorney
The transfer meant that, as of Monday morning, 44 of Guantánamo’s last 103 captives are cleared for repatriation or resettlement in another country, with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. The Pentagon disclosed the release after the Saudi flight left the base.
It took Shimrani’s case two trips to the parole board to gain approval to go home to a Saudi rehabilitation program whose graduates on occasion have made their way to Yemen to join forces with al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula.
In June 2014 he boycotted his first hearing to protest Guantánamo’s practice of hand-searching the genitals of prisoners before and after meetings with their attorneys and other appointments, such as a parole board hearing. He notified the board that the searches were “humiliating and degrading.” The national security board responded that it could not evaluate his “mindset” without a personal appearance.
The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.
Department of Defense statement
He showed up last August, a time when the guards had apparently returned to using metal detectors for groin searches and sat with a U.S. military officer who argued on the Saudi’s behalf that the captive “has slipped quietly into middle age” in his years of U.S. detention.
He got to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba on Jan. 16, 2002, as a suspected recruiter for al-Qaida and the Taliban who joined the jihad in Afghanistan.
His leaked 2008 U.S. intelligence assessment said he was among dozens of men who fled Afghanistan from Tora Bora to Pakistan, whose forces rounded them up and sent them to U.S. troops back in Afghanistan. More recently, 2014 and 2015 intelligence estimates described him as a trouble-making religious leader among the Guantánamo detainees. One also noted that he had followed the growth of the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq “with apparent interest.”
The parole board said on Sept. 11, 2015, in a brief, three-paragraph decision, that it had faith in the Saudi rehabilitation program and the kingdom’s ability to monitor Shimrani’s movements.
It took Shimrani’s case two trips to the parole board to gain approval to go home to a Saudi rehabilitation program; he boycotted first appointment so his advocate, file went to the board without him.
It also said the Saudi admitted to being a former combatant but was more inclined to spend time with family than jihad or on the battlefield.
Shimrani’s attorney, Martha Rayner, said Monday that the Saudi “looks forward to participating in the Saudi reintegration program and reuniting with his family and establishing a peaceful and productive life in his home country.”
The release, which was negotiated last year, comes at a time of U.S. criticism of the kingdom for its execution of 47 people, including prominent Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr. On Jan. 2, reacting to the executions, the State Department urged the Saudi government “to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases.”
Monday’s Department of Defense announcement revealing the Guantánamo prisoner release, expressed the U.S. government’s gratitude to “the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”
It added: “The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”