Guantánamo parole board OKs release of Osama bin Laden bodyguard

Majid Ahmed at Guantánamo in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by WikiLeaks.
Majid Ahmed at Guantánamo in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by WikiLeaks.

The national security parole board, in just a month, has approved a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard for release to another country as the Pentagon-run panel works on accelerating reviews.

The board has six more hearings scheduled into May — two of them so-called “forever prisoners” like the man whose approval to go was disclosed Friday and four of them who were at one time considered candidates for war-crimes trial.

In the latest decision, the board recommended release of Yemeni Majid Ahmed, 35, to an Arabic-speaking country with security precautions. An intelligence assessment concluded that he was recruited to join the Taliban at age 18 or 19 and became a bin Laden bodyguard at 21, a month before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The board will soon hear from two former CIA ‘black site’ prisoners now in Guantánamo low-value detainee lockups.

The decision to approve the release of Ahmed means that, of Guantánamo’s 91 captives, 35 are approved for transfer, 10 are in war crimes proceeding and the rest are either forever prisoners or candidates for war crimes trial.

The board said Ahmed “has been relatively compliant during his time at Guantánamo, although he has been largely uncooperative with interrogators.” The intelligence profile said he “still harbors anti-U.S. sentiments and holds conservative Islamic views that may make transfer and reintegration to many countries difficult.”

The board’s three-paragraph statement disclosing Ahmed’s approval for transfer, dated Feb. 18, recommended release to resettlement in an Arabic-speaking country, “with appropriate security assurances.” It was available on the Pentagon’s parole board website Saturday, a month after his Jan. 19 hearing.

The decision means 35 of Guantánamo’s 91 captives are approved for transfer.

It said release factors included Ahmed’s “relative candor in discussing his time in Afghanistan, acceptance of the mistakes he made, and a credible desire to not repeat those mistakes.” Further, the board noted his following the rules at the Guantánamo prison and that he was in his teens “when he went to Afghanistan” and “matured since entering detention.”

Ahmed got to Guantánamo on Jan. 16, 2002, the week the detention center opened.

While many of the young Yemenis brought to Guantánamo in the early days were initially profiled as bin Laden bodyguards, dubbed by U.S. intelligence “the Dirty 30,” not all continued to be so described by the time of their Periodic Review Board. An earlier Obama administration task force declared Ahmed a Law of War detainee, ineligible for trial but also ineligible for release in 2009, a “forever prisoner.”

A U.S. military officer advocating for Ahmed’s release noted that he had studied math, languages, health and art inside the prison, and provided the board with samples of his classwork. The officer said in a statement that the Yemeni “is quick with a smile and exudes a warm personality.”

The board is scheduled to next hear from “forever prisoner” Mohammed al Ansi on Tuesday. After that, it will consider the cases of Yemeni Abdulsalam al Hela, another forever prisoner, and four men whom the 2009 task force once considered candidates for trials: Pakistani Saifullah Paracha, 68, a former U.S. green card holder; Afghan Obaidullah, 36; Yemenis Abdu Ali Sharqawi, 41, sometimes known as “Riyadh the Facilitator”; and Suhail Anam al Sharabi, 38 or 39.

Two of the Yemenis, Hela and Sharqawi, spent time in the CIA black sites, according to an appendix in the the Senate Intelligence Committee’s so-called Torture Report. They have been long held in Guantánamo’s lockups for low-value detainees. Paracha is the prison’s oldest captive.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg