Gitmo Prisoner, Hunger-Striking for Nine Years, Cleared for Release

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Gitmo Prisoner, Hunger-Striking for Nine Years, Cleared for Release

Saudi Arabia native 'has exercised a peaceful means of protest by refusing to consume food' since 2005, says lawyer

Friday marked the United Nations' International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

A U.S. government review board said Friday that Abdul Rahman Shalabi, a prisoner who has been on a nine-year hunger strike at the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been cleared to return to his native Saudi Arabia.

Shalabi, one of the first prisoners brought to Guantánamo in January 2002, was never charged with a crime. The government said he had been a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and had links to al Qaeda's external operations chief, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is facing trial by military commission at Guantánamo.

The Periodic Review Board—which was established by the Obama administration in 2011 as part of the effort to close the prison at Guantánamo—said in a statement (pdf) published on its website that Shalabi can be released to take part in a Saudi government rehabilitation program for militants and would be subject to monitoring afterward.

"The Board acknowledges the detainee's past terrorist-related activities and connections," the final determination statement (pdf) reads. However, it continues, "in light of the factors and conditions of the transfer...the risk the detainee presents can be adequately mitigated. The detainee does not appear to be in contact with any extremists and his family has no known ties to extremism."

Shalabi has been on hunger strike since 2005, with his lawyer telling (pdf) the review board in April "he has exercised a peaceful means of protest by refusing to consume food and has largely cooperated with the enteral feedings he has been provided on a daily basis over the last nine years."

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According to the Associated Press, the U.S. now holds 116 men at Guantánamo, including 52 cleared for transfer or release.

On Thursday, attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed papers demanding the immediate release of another hunger-striking detainee—cleared Guantánamo prisoner Tariq Ba Odah, who has been on hunger strike for eight years to protest his continued indefinite detention and solitary conditions of confinement at the prison. According to medical experts, the military’s force-feeding regimen is failing to keep him alive; Ba Odah currently weighs only approximately 75 lbs.—56 percent of his ideal body weight.

"Mr. Ba Odah has been imprisoned at Guantánamo for 13 years, and yet despite the fact that he was cleared for release by top U.S. security agencies more than five years ago, the U.S. has refused to repatriate him to Saudi Arabia where his family resides or resettle him in a third country," CCR stated.

"What excuse could the Obama administration possibly have to continue delaying his freedom?" asked CCR's advocacy program manager for the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, Aliya Hana Hussain, in a blog post on Friday. "None. It is the Defense Department’s gross negligence that has Tariq on the precipice of death, holding on to the only way he has of reflecting back what Guantánamo has done to him and others."

Friday also marks the United Nations' International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

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