The Pentagon said Monday it delivered two prisoners to Serbia, ending their more than 14 years of detention without charges and wrapping up a weekend of releases that downsized the captive population to 76.
One, a Tajik known here as Umar Abdulayev, 37, had been cleared for release by both Bush and Obama administration review panels but resisted repatriation. In 2009 he announced through his lawyer that he was so fearful of return that he’d rather spend the rest of his life on this remote base in southeast Cuba.
The other, a Yemeni named Mansoor al Dayfi, in his mid 30s, was cleared for release by the inter-agency review panel in October. From 2010, he had been held as a “forever prisoner,” a captive considered too dangerous to release but ineligible for trial until the board downgraded his dangerousness.
It was the second Defense Department transfer disclosure in 20 hours. Earlier, the Pentagon said that a Yemeni was being resettled in Italy. Neither Italy nor Serbia had offered sanctuary to a Guantánamo prisoner before. Now, 28 of the last 76 captives are approved for transfer with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
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A Pentagon statement called Abdulayev by a different name, Muhammadi Davlatov. He was the last Tajik in the prison of now 14 nationalities and left the base with the other two before dawn Saturday.
“I’m delighted for him. It took way too long, but it’s an enormous victory that he would get out of Guantánamo, and he wouldn’t go to Tajikistan,” said Chicago attorney Matthew J. O’Hara, who seven years ago disclosed that Abdulayev feared repatriation more than spending the rest of his life in a Guantánamo cell.
The weekend releases to Italy and Serbia raised to 30 the number of countries that have resettled detainees for the Obama administration.
Part of it was the stigma of having been at Guantánamo, O’Hara said. Part of it was fears that Abdulayev’s family came out on the wrong side of that nation’s civil war.
Instead, O’Hara said the 37-year-old man who sports a long black ponytail wants to forge a career as a linguist or translator using the Arabic and English he learned in prison and the Tajik and Russian he learned before fleeing his homeland in 2001. He doesn’t speak Serbian, but his attorney said “he’s a sponge” in his ability to pick up languages.
He also wants to marry and have children, O’Hara said.
Leaked prison records indicate that U.S. troops brought both men to the crude open-air prison compound called Camp X-Ray on Feb. 9, 2002, the eighth shipment of captives from Afghanistan. In all, 34 men were brought to Guantánamo that day to raise the total of war-on-terror captives to 220.
28 of the last 76 detainees are now cleared for release
Although they arrived on the same flight, and left together on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane, attorneys said they would not live together as they adjusted to their new surroundings.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement of gratitude to “the Republic of Serbia for offering humanitarian resettlement to two individuals formerly in U.S. custody at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”
“This significant humanitarian gesture is consistent with Serbia’s leadership on the global stage,” Kerry said, adding that Serbia “joins 30 other countries which, since 2009, have extended resettlement opportunities to over 100 detainees.”
Dayfi wants a degree in information technology, said his New York attorney, Beth Jacob, who was at the base as the cargo plane took off before dawn Saturday.
“His focus now is on education,” she said, adding that he got to the prison “very young, very afraid” after he was picked up in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance. By Sunday, she heard the man who had sometimes joined prison fasts to protest his confinement was already in an apartment, had gone shopping and was in the company of two Serbians to help him adjust to his new circumstances.
Both men were featured in the Miami Herald’s Portraits of Guantánamo of special that showcased photos sent out of the prison for family, taken by the International Red Cross.
In September, according to a Pentagon transcript, he told the national security Periodic Review Board that he had become a fan of American popular culture — in particular Taylor Swift and the television shows “Boston Legal” and “Little House on the Prairie.” He said he acquired his English fluency at the prison by reading the Jules Verne adventure novel “Around the World in 80 Days.”
“He has been promised support for his education, which he is counting on,” Jacob said, adding that he was a proficient English speaker.
At Guantánamo, he was among five “forever prisoners” who in 2013 designed a business plan for a Utopian “Yemen Milk and Honey Farm” to demonstrate plans for life after more than a decade in U.S. military detention. He’s the second imaginary “milk and honey” farmer to get out.
The latest transfers come at a time of unhappiness by some members of Congress over the pace of releases, especially after a Syrian sent for resettlement in Uruguay has gone missing. Some speculate he left his host country.
The transfer released the last Tajik from the prison, which now holds men of 14 nationalities.
O’Hara said that the people had nothing to fear of Abdulayev after Guantánamo. “If you meet him he’s completely charming and friendly and gracious and he just wants to get on with his life after all these years,” he said. “I do think it’s a good country for him and he’s happy to be going there.”
Said Jacob, who joined Dayfi at his parole-style hearing: “There is no reason to fear him — he was never a fighter and while his religion is important to him, he is pretty tolerant and — as you can tell from his photograph, with the trimmed beard for instance — he is not extreme in his observances.”
Co-counsel Carlos Warner, an Ohio public defender, said “Mansoor is welcome in my home. He has overcome intolerable hardship and has grown as a man. He’s an inspirational survivor.”
Secretary of State John Kerry:
The United States is grateful to the Republic of Serbia for offering humanitarian resettlement to two individuals formerly in U.S. custody at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.
On July 11, the Department of Defense announced the transfer of a Tajik national, Muhammadi Davlatov, and a Yemeni national, Mansur Ahmad Saad al-Dayfi, to Serbia. Each detainee was unanimously approved for transfer by six U.S. government departments and agencies: Mr. Davlatov through the 2009-2010 Executive Order Task Force, and Mr. al-Dayfi by the more recent Periodic Review Board process. Serbia joins 30 other countries which, since 2009, have extended resettlement opportunities to over 100 detainees.
The United States appreciates the generous assistance of Serbia as the United States continues its efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. This significant humanitarian gesture is consistent with Serbia’s leadership on the global stage.
The Department of Defense announced today the transfer of Muhammadi Davlatov and Mansur Ahmad Saad al-Dayfi from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay to the Government of Serbia.
As directed by the president’s Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of this case. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Davlatov was unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.
On Oct. 28, 2015, a Periodic Review Board consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined continued law of war detention of al-Dayfi does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, al-Dayfi was recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board. The Periodic Review Board process was established by the president’s March 7, 2011 Executive Order 13567.
In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States’ intent to transfer these individuals and of the secretary’s determination that these transfers meet the statutory standard.
The United States is grateful to the Government of Serbia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the Government of Serbia to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.
Today, 76 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay.