The Guantánamo parole board has cleared for release an Algerian captive who was for a time considered for prosecution as part of a Pakistan-based bomb-making cell, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
Sufiyan Barhoumi, 43, went before the board on May 26 with a letter of support from a former guard, the second known captive to do such a thing and get approved for release.
The Periodic Review Board said in a short decision that the release of Barhoumi “presents some level of threat in light of his past activities, skills, and associations.” But it noted that he had been a well-behaved prisoner, lacked “extremist views” and offered the board a detailed plan for the future — to run a pizza shop near his mom in Algiers.
Now, 35 of the last 76 detainees are cleared for release to security arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
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He is the 35th prisoner now approved for transfer among the 76 captives currently at the detention center.
The other 41 include 10 charged with war crimes, 17 board-approved “forever prisoners,’’ and 14 captives who await hearings or decisions on their dangerousness.
Barhoumi’s attorney, Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, urged the Algerian’s speedy repatriation, noting that time was running out on Barack Obama’s pledge to close the detention center. “President Obama has just over five months to empty the prison. His legacy depends on swift action.”
In 2005, a Pentagon prosecutor charged Barhoumi as a member of the so-called “Faisalabad Three,” one of three men captured among a multinational band of suspected al-Qaida loyalists in a Pakistani raid in March 2002. His case collapsed amid questions of whether conspiracy or providing material support were prosecutable as violation of the laws of war.
His military defense attorney, Air Force Maj. Justin Swick, noted Thursday that the U.S. government had 14 years to put him on trial but “could never think of anything to charge.
“It’s time for the charade to end. Mr. Barhoumi comes from a normal, middle-class family willing to support him and a safe, stable country willing to accept him,” the major said. “There are plenty of detainees in Guantánamo the American people need to worry about. Mr. Barhoumi is not one of them.”
Sufiyan Barhoumi went before the parole-style panel with a letter of endorsement from a soldier who guarded him a decade ago.
The key capture of the Faisalabad raid was the alleged arch-terrorist known as Abu Zubaydah, who was spirited off to custody at a secret CIA site where he was systematically waterboarded and otherwise humiliated to break his will — for example, by confining him to a dog kennel. Abu Zubaydah goes before the parole panel later this month.
Barhoumi got to Guantánamo on June 18, 2002, four years before Abu Zubaydah. About four years later the Algerian appeared at the war court with part of his hand blown off from a training exercise years before his capture. He sued for his freedom in federal court, but lost in 2009 when a U.S. District Court judge found the government presented sufficient information to justify his detention as a prisoner of the war on terror.
His lawyer urged speedy release of the captive — whose family has bought a pizza shop for him to run in Algiers — noting that President Obama’s ‘legacy depends on swift action.’
Kadidal described Barhoumi as “one of the best-liked men — among both fellow prisoners and guards — detained at Guantánamo.” His presentation to the inter-agency review panel included a letter of support for his release from a former guard who, Kadidal told the board, “still remembers Barhoumi fondly more than 10 years later.”
Kadidal noted that, while Barhoumi’s father died while the Algerian was at Guantánamo, the Algerian’s mother is still in his native Algiers. “His overriding concern has been to see his mother again and make up to her for their lost years together,” Kadidal said by email.
Swick said that Barhoumi’s family already purchased space to open a pizza parlor in Algiers to give the former prisoner “a place to work when he goes home. The family sent us pictures. Barhoumi is beside himself excited. After 14 years in Guantánamo, working in a pizza shop sounds like heaven.”
Earlier in the week, the board upheld the indefnite detention of Pakistani-born Saudi Abdul Rahim Gulam Rabbani, saying the captive “worked directly for al-Qaida external operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed,” the man accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
In the case of the Rabbani, who has never been charged with a crime, the board said he had “a prominent role moving and housing al-Qaida fighters and key figures” and invited input from the government of Saudi Arabia for future reviews.