Guantánamo

Guantánamo parole board clears another Yemeni for release

Zahir Hamdoun poses for the International Red Cross in this photo for family approved for release by the prison staff. Courtesy Center for Constitutional Rights
Zahir Hamdoun poses for the International Red Cross in this photo for family approved for release by the prison staff. Courtesy Center for Constitutional Rights

The Guantánamo parole board has cleared another long-held Yemeni captive for release with security arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Last month, Zahir Hamdoun’s attorney pledged her New York civil-liberties firm’s support for the 36-year-old Yemeni once he is released from Guantánamo, where he has been held for more than 13 years. Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said her Center for Constitutional Rights is prepared to provide Hamdoun with years of long-term support including “financial assistance and referrals for needs large and small, ranging from live-in interpreters and mental health care, to laptops and language CDs.”

No clear indication that the detainee harbors strong anti-American sentiments or supports violent extremism.

Parole board finding

The board on Tuesday released a Jan. 12 finding that “noted the ability and willingness of the detainee’s family and others to support him” and agreed he could be released “with appropriate security clearances.”

Hamdoun, at Guantánamo since May 2002, had been held as a Law of War detainee, known as a “forever prisoner.” A 2010 federal task force had concluded he was too dangerous for release, but there was insufficient evidence against him to try him for any crime. The latest decision lifted that status. He and 34 others among the 93 detainees still at the remote base in southeast Cuba on Tuesday are eligible for release.

Latest decision means 35 of current 93 captives are cleared for release with security assurances.

Of the rest, 10 are in war-court proceedings and 48 are in a continue-to-detain status — either as forever prisoners or at one time considered candidates for trial.

Hamdoun was picked up by Pakistani intelligence agents in Karachi in February 2002 and handed over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, at that time more traditionally considered the battlefield, for interrogation and eventual transfer to Guantánamo.

A U.S. intelligence profile said he went to Afghanistan in 1999 and trained in an al-Qaida camp. It said Hamdoun “dislikes the U.S., an emotion that probably is motivated more by frustration over his continuing detention than by a commitment to global jihad, and he probably sympathizes with but is not deeply devoted to extremist causes.”

But the board said in its Jan. 12 decision that it “found no clear indication that the detainee harbors strong anti-American sentiments or supports violent extremism.”

His lawyer urged a speedy release. “Mr. Hamdoun has made clear that he is willing to be transferred anywhere,” Kebriaei said in a statement, “and that he has strong family and institutional support for his reintegration.”

As a Yemeni, he can’t go home under an Obama administration policy that deems his turbulent Arabian Peninsula homeland too unstable for peaceful reintegration. The board recommended he be sent to “an Arabic-speaking country with access to integration and assistance.”

The decision was released on the same day the board met with another Yemeni seeking release: Majid Abdu Ahmed, 35, who like many of the earliest Yemeni captives at the prison was at one time profiled as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. An unnamed U.S. military officer helping him argue his case for release said Ahmed was recruited to Afghanistan at a “very young age” — and that he, too, preferred transfer to “an Arabic-speaking country, if possible.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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