Guantánamo ‘forever prisoner’ cleared for release

Saudi detainee Abdul Rahman Shalabi was cleared for release Friday, June 26, 2015, by a Periodic Review Board.
Saudi detainee Abdul Rahman Shalabi was cleared for release Friday, June 26, 2015, by a Periodic Review Board.

A prisoner who had been considered too dangerous to ever release and who has been on a nine-year hunger strike at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is now cleared for release to his native Saudi Arabia, a government review board said Friday.

The Periodic Review Board, which has been re-evaluating dozens of Guantánamo prisoners previously deemed too dangerous to release, said in a statement published on its website that Abdul Rahman Shalabi can be released to take part in a Saudi government rehabilitation program for militants and would be subject to monitoring afterward.

Before Shalabi can be released, the Obama administration must obtain security and humane treatment assurances with the home country or repatriation agreements for third countries and provide a 30-day notice to Congress.

Shalabi, 39, a Saudi who is Detainee 042, has been on a hunger strike since 2005, according to court filings. A leaked May 2008 prison document considered him a suspected member of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard detail who had trained on suicide operations — a profile attributed to many in the early days at Guantánamo.

A 2009 Obama administration task force declared him an indefinite detainee ineligible for release. He was one of Guantánamo’s last 35 “forever prisoners” entitled to a Periodic Review Board hearing to contest his status.

The board, which was created by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2011 as part of the effort to close the prison at Guantánamo, did not clear Shalabi of wrongdoing and said it “acknowledges the detainee’s past terrorist-related activities.”

Shalabi began a hunger strike in 2005. He and another prisoner, who since has been released, maintained the protest longer than any others held at the base. Court records show Shalabi occasionally consumed food but also dropped to as little as 101 pounds. His lawyer told the review board in April that prison officials had fed him with a nasogastric tube daily for nine years.

The Shalabi release decision means that of Guantánamo’s 116 captives, 52 are now approved for transfer. The vast majority of them are Yemenis who are ineligible for repatriation because of the Arabian Gulf nation’s spiraling violence and powerful al-Qaida franchise. Ten other prisoners are in war-crimes proceedings, and another 54 are either candidates for war crimes trials or forever prisoners.

This report from the Associated Press was supplemented by material from Herald staff writer Carol Rosenberg.