Guantánamo parole board OKs release of Afghan Obaidullah

Afghan detainee Obaidullah in his in his prison camp profile photo provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group. Like many Afghans, he has only one name.
Afghan detainee Obaidullah in his in his prison camp profile photo provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group. Like many Afghans, he has only one name.

The Guantánamo parole board has approved the release of an Afghan man who was once considered for trial as a war criminal by military commission.

The captive known by the name Obaidullah, 36, “has not espoused any anti-U.S. sentiment that would indicate he views the U.S. as his enemy,” the panel wrote. “Neither the detainee nor his family have any ties to extremists outside of Guantánamo.”

Latest decision means that 28 of Guantanamo’s 80 captives are cleared to go with security agreements.

The Pentagon released the decision Friday during a busy period for the Periodic Review Board. The Board has scheduled an unprecedented nine hearings this month, and released the Obaidullah decision exactly one month after he went before them.

With this approval, 28 of the 80 captives currently at Guantánamo prison are formally cleared to leave to security arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Ten others are in war crimes proceedings and the rest are awaiting hearings, their results or have had their indefinite detention upheld.

Obaidullah got to Guantánamo in October 2002 and, in 2008, a prosecutor swore out charges against him alleging conspiracy and providing material support for terror. The charge sheet alleged he stored and concealed anti-tank mines and other explosive devices near his home in Khost, Afghanistan, and had a notebook showing how to use them. He was never arraigned at the war court.

U.S. troops found landmines near the home where he was living with his wife and infant daughter. His attorneys said an investigation found they were remnants of the war against the Soviet invasion, and Obaidullah’s family had buried them in a field, unarmed, to be rid of them, not blow up anybody. The Obama administration dismissed the charges in 2011.

See the Miami Herald’s the Periodic Review Board process, and decisions.

“This young man should have been released years ago,” Marine Maj. Derek Poteet, who has represented him since 2010, said Friday. “He was taken from his bed at his home peacefully without resistance. He was subjected to real abuse at Bagram.”

A 2008 Guantánamo prison profile said he was brought there to provide information on al-Qaida recruiting, electronic devices, terrorism-related facilities and anti-tank land mines. An updated November 2015 intelligence profile, which was prepared for the parole board, said the Taliban trained him to handle explosives, and was part of an al-Qaida-linked improvised explosives device cell that targeted U.S. and allied troops. U.S. Special Forces captured him in July 2002.

Obaidullah’s major defense lawyer said he was innocent of war crimes and mistreated by U.S. forces.

Poteet said not only was he innocent of war crimes, Obaidullah did not speak Arabic before he got to Cuba, making him an unlikely al-Qaida fighter.

In 2013, Poteet described the Afghan as having withered to a “bag of bones” during the prison’s paralyzing hunger strike. Obaidullah also described for his lawyers the April 2013 raid by Guantánamo troops that forcibly moved hunger strikers into single-cell lockdown, something he considered collective punishment.

Both the board and U.S. military officers assigned to help Obaidullah make his case noted his good record of behavior at the detention center where, the board said, he had a history of mediating issues between captives and guards as well as among captives.

It is not known what he told the board to help win his chance for release. At his request, the Pentagon withheld the transcript of his hearing from public scrutiny.

The board recommended his release “with appropriate security assurances and integration support,” ideally “to a country with an integration program, strong monitoring program, and an ability to keep the detainee productively engaged.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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