A Saudi man who pleaded guilty to war crimes in exchange for his Feb. 20, 2018, repatriation from Guantánamo was still at the U.S. Navy base on Tuesday, awaiting completion of an agreement between the Trump administration and his homeland, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
Ahmed al Darbi, 43, “has complied with all terms of his plea agreement,” Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins said in response to a query from the Miami Herald.
“We await assurances from the Saudi Arabian government to move forward on his departure,” she said. Meantime, “Darbi will remain at Guantánamo until all transfer details are concluded.”
The Department of Defense “hopes the transfer will take place soon,” she added.
The release is widely seen as a test of the ability of the Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, to deliver on a plea deal. Darbi pleaded guilty to terrorism and other war crimes during the Obama administration, on Feb. 20, 2014, and testified against two other men awaiting trials at the war court — the alleged architect of the Oct. 12, 2000, USS Cole bombing and an Iraqi man accused of commanding al-Qaida insurgents in Afghanistan after 9/11.
He has been in U.S. military custody since August 2002 and was brought to Guantánamo in March 2003.
On Oct. 13, 2017, a U.S. military jury sentenced Darbi to 13 years confinement for helping al-Qaida militants plot bombings of ships in the Arabian Sea after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The sentence began running on the date of his guilty plea, but unbeknownst to the officers on the jury, he had a side deal to serve out the sentence in a rehabilitation center for jihasdists in Saudi Arabia. His wife and two children live in Saudi Arabia.
In his last court day at the base, a defense attorney for the Iraqi prisoner led Darbi through a long list of Darbi’s mistreatment by the U.S. military — sleep deprivation, unwanted rectal exams, being suspended in shackles and other abuse Darbi described as “the torture times” in sworn testimony. A day earlier in an apparent attempt to discredit Darbi’s ability to tell truth from fiction, another defense attorney questioned him about the perks he has received at a special section of the prison, Camp Echo, for being a war court prosecution informant.
On Feb. 5, a war court prosecutor in the case against alleged al-Qaida commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi foreshadowed a diplomatic problem on the transfer but did not provide specifics. Hadi’s judge was about to take the deposition from Darbi, and asked whether there was any evidence that the transfer might not go through.
This was prosecutor Vaughn Spencer’s reply: “What I can say is that the U.S. government has fully upheld our end of the pretrial agreement, and we do not have control or ability to affect, you know, a foreign sovereign’s decisions. We are hopeful that that will all be worked out in a very short period of time. Beyond that, what I have is speculation, Your Honor.”
Here is the full response of Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, spokeswoman for Detainee Affairs and the Office of Military Commissions, to a Feb. 20, 2018, query from the Miami Herald:
“Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi’s transfer from Guantanamo detention to Saudi Arabia will not take place today.
“Al Darbi’s plea agreement stipulated his transfer would occur after serving four years in U.S. custody. Today marks four years since he signed the agreement. We await assurances from the Saudi Arabian government to move forward on his departure.
“Al Darbi will remain at Guantanamo until all transfer details are concluded. Thus far, al Darbi has complied with all terms of his plea agreement. DOD [Department of Defense] hopes the transfer will take place soon.”