Parole board OKs release of Guantánamo’s last Russian captive

Russian Ravil Mingazov in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks.
Russian Ravil Mingazov in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks.

The inter-agency parole board announced Monday that it approved the transfer of Guantánamo’s last Russian prisoner, a one-time Red Army ballet dancer whose lawyers are trying to help him resettle in Nottingham, England.

Ravil Mingazov, 48, “did not express any intent to reengage in terrorist activities nor has he espoused any anti-U.S. sentiment that would indicate he views the U.S. as his enemy,” the federal Periodic Review Board wrote in a brief statement. It added that he got along well with his guards.

The decision means 32 of the detention center’s 76 captives are cleared for release to arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Lawyers for Mingazov, an ethnic Tatar who was captured in Pakistan and brought to Guantánamo in October 2002, wrote to the British Foreign Office last year seeking family reunification for Mingazov with his now teenaged son and ex-wife in Nottingham. The Muslim family got there in 2014 from Russia and has asylum, said his attorney, Gary Thompson, who added that the couple might remarry once reunited.

Mingazov is a former ballet dancer with the Red Army who argues that he fled anti-Muslim persecution in his homeland in 2000. He went first to Tajikistan, then on to Afghanistan and finally Pakistan, where he was captured by security forces in a raid on a suspected al-Qaida safehouse — and handed over to the United States.

He was all smiles at Guantánamo when he got the news that he was approved for release by video teleconference from a parole board office in Virginia, said lawyer Kristin Davis. She and Thompson watched while a military officer who helped him argue for his freedom read the release decision aloud. “Being a ballet dancer,” she said, “he’s got impeccable manners” and reeled off thank-yous to people who were on the feed, and some who weren’t.

Although he was never charged with a crime, a 2009 Obama task force recommended his case be considered for prosecution. Then in May 2010, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled for his release — finding no evidence to justify detaining him — a decision the Obama administration contested.

His attorney said Monday that Mingazov would resist going back to his homeland, which Thompson said has sent delegations to meet Mingazov at this base and informed him he would be punished for fleeing Russia without permission. At the time Mingazov left, he was no longer in the Russian Army but was “outspoken about the rights of Muslims in the Russian military” and working as a civilian at a Russian contractor that provided food supplies to the military.

“They would have to drag him by force,” the lawyer said. “He would definitely refuse to leave Guantánamo if he knew he was going to Russia.”

Thompson added that the British government had put Mingazov’s family reunification request on hold, “pending the outcome of this PRB determination. Now that we’ve got a green light, we’ve already started to try to get England’s attention on our petition.”

The review board said it concluded Mingazov was “a low-level fighter” and had “some concern” about his lack of candor at his June 21 hearing. But, it said, it noted his record of good behavior at the detention center “and history of positive engagements with the guard force.”

Without specifically mentioning the family that waits for him in England, it noted outside “willingness to provide the detainee with financial and integration support upon transfer.” The lawyer said he will get the support of his ex-wife, her parents and sister, as well their son.

Although his professional dancing days are over, Thompson predicted Mingazov would manage well if England took him in. “Ravil’s very smart. He’s one of the smartest people I ever met. He’s going to figure out a way to become gainfully employed. He’s the kind of guy who would say, ‘You want me to work in a school cafeteria? That’s great.’ ”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg