Guantánamo

Review board weighs release of injured ‘forever prisoner’

Miami Herald wire service and staff report

Omar Khalif Abu Baker in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group. The profile said he was brought to Guantánamo on Aug. 5, 2002.
Omar Khalif Abu Baker in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group. The profile said he was brought to Guantánamo on Aug. 5, 2002.

A Libyan prisoner at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, appeared Tuesday before a review board charged with deciding whether he can be released after nearly 13 years in custody.

Omar Mohammed Khalif Abu Baker, born in 1972, is one of four Libyans at Guantánamo. A U.S. assessment concluded he had ties to Osama bin Laden stretching back to the al-Qaida founder’s time in Sudan and “probably” fought against the Northern Alliance and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

“If repatriated to Libya,” the assessment predicted, the captive “probably would seek out his remaining family members in his hometown of al-Bayda, which is situated between Darnah and Benghazi, areas where extremists operate freely.”

The Associated Press quoted his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, as telling the Periodic Review Board there was no evidence the captive had any direct role in attacks on the United States. Kassem also reportedly said prison is extremely difficult for the man because of his wounds. He lost part of a leg from a land mine explosion in Afghanistan in 1998 and his other leg was shattered in a construction site accident. He has shrapnel in his left arm and left leg, and he is blind in his left eye.

A U.S. military officer who was assigned to argue his case, but not named, said in a prepared statement released by the Pentagon that the captive is “peaceful, compliant, and also has quite a sense of humor.”

The officer also noted that the captive voluntarily went before the board on Ramadan, the holy month many Muslims devote to daytime fasting and prayer.

The U.S. holds 116 prisoners at Guantánamo, including 51 cleared for release. The Libyan, held as Detainee 695, is not one of them. In January 2010, an Obama Task Force classified him as an indefinite law of war detainee, also known as a “forever prisoner.” Later that year, a federal judge reviewed his habeas corpus petition and upheld his detention as a Law of War prisoner.

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