U.S. releases ‘forever prisoner’ from Gitmo
The U.S. military released to Saudi Arabia last week a captive who was held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a dozen years, was never charged with a crime but was categorized for a time as a “forever prisoner.”
A Saudi plane fetched Muhammed Zahrani, 45, on Friday, reducing the detainee population at Guantanamo to 142. Days earlier, the United States sent five other Arab captives to resettlement in Europe.
The United States disclosed the transfer of the Saudi citizen Saturday when Zahrani was back in his homeland.
The sudden spurt in transfers — Zahrani was the 13th released this year — has unsettled some in Congress as the Pentagon works toward President Obama’s goal of closing the prison.
“What the Obama administration is doing is dangerous and, frankly, reckless,” the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said after the Thursday transfer.
“If just one U.S. soldier loses their life over these transfers, we will have failed in our duty to the American people,” McKeon said. “Until we can assure the terrorists stay off the battlefield, they must stay behind bars.”
Obama has called Guantanamo a recruitment tool for extremists, damaging to international standing, unnecessary for national security as well as expensive and inefficient.
Zahrani got to Guantanamo on Aug. 5, 2002, and had been held as an indefinite detainee — meaning he was never accused of engaging in war crimes or terrorism but a 2010 federal task force declared him too dangerous to leave the prison. He was considered to be a follower of Osama bin Laden and devoted to al-Qaida.
On Oct. 3, a national security parole board downgraded the threat he posed and endorsed his repatriation, citing his “candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret and desires for a peaceful life after Guantanamo.”
It is not known what he told the board during his May video conference between Guantanamo and Washington because, at Zahrani’s request, his remarks were under seal.
Two U.S. military officers who were assigned as his advocates said that, based on an intelligence estimate of Zahrani’s danger to others, he was less of a threat on paper than five Taliban prisoners sent to Qatar in May in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an Afghan war prisoner.