President Barack Obama’s Guantánamo parole board has approved for transfer the first so-called “forever prisoner” to undergo a review of his case file, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Mahmud Mujahid, 34, brought to Guantánamo as a suspected bodyguard of Osama bin Laden on Jan. 11, 2002, joins 76 other detainees who are technically approved for release among the 155 captives at the prison camps. Unclear is whether or when he will ever go home to his native Yemen.
In 2010, an Obama Task Force listed him among 48 Guantánamo prisoners who were considered too dangerous to release but who could not be charged with a crime because of a lack of evidence. Two since died, and now Mujahid leaves the indefinite detainee list, reducing the figure of forever prisoners to 45.
A Pentagon announcement said a “consensus” of a six-member Periodic Review Board representing U.S. intelligence and other agencies “found that continued law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the United States.”
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The board met in the Washington, D.C., area on Nov. 20. Mujahid, and his attorney, David Remes, argued for his freedom by video feed in a 75-minute session during which Mujahid said he’d take resettlement in a western country or return to his native Yemen — whichever became possible first.
“Now that he’s been cleared, he should be transferred,” Remes told the Miami Herald. “He’s lost 12 years of his life at Guantánamo — over a third of his life and all of his adult life. It’s time to send him home. It’s time to send all the cleared Yemenis home without delay. There’s no justification for continuing to hold any of them.”
Delegates from six federal agencies listened to the captive and then questioned him with the aid of two linguists via closed-circuit feed. They represented the Director of National Intelligence, departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State as well as the Pentagon and, separately, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At issue in the Guantánamo transfer conundrum is what to do with any of the now 56 Yemeni detainees who Obama’s task force concluded in 2010 could leave the prison with appropriate security arrangements. Yemen, ancestral home of bin Laden, has a powerful al-Qaida spinoff group blamed for terror attacks against U.S. and other western targets.
The Pentagon announcement did not say that Mujahid’s new status meant he could leave the prison. Rather, the decision of the Periodic Review Board meant “Mujahid is therefore eligible for transfer subject to appropriate security and humane treatment conditions.”
At the urging of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama ordered his administration to set up the board in 2011.
All of Guantánamo’s indefinite detainees, the “forever prisoners,” will have their cases reviewed as will others who had at times been considered as candidates for war crimes trial. The next board hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28.