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The prisoner's lawyer told the Miami Herald that "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." (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)

Guantánamo Prisoner, Never Convicted, To Be Released After Decade-Plus Detention

'This young man should have been released years ago'

Nika Knight Beauchamp

An Afghan man detained for 14 years in Guantánamo—without ever being convicted of a crime—was on Friday recommended by the Pentagon for release.

The man, known as Obaidullah, was arrested and detained in 2002, when he was about 19, but the U.S. government failed to successfully prosecute him for any crimes, AP reported. Charges were eventually made against him in 2008, but were dismissed in 2011.

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

Obaidullah was allegedly arrested by U.S. special forces in 2002 because unarmed land mines were discovered buried near his house. The U.S. government did not formally bring charges against him until 2008.

"He was charged in the military tribunals in September 2008 with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, which appeals courts have said cannot be pursued as war crimes at Guantánamo for conduct that occurred before 2006," explained AP. "The government dismissed the charges in 2011 and his lawyers have been pressing for his release ever since."

Poteet told the Miami Herald that "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."

The newspaper described the U.S. government's stated rationale for Obaidullah's years of detention:

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

"In 2013," the Miami Herald reports, "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."

The Pentagon parole board that made the determination (pdf) for Obaidullah's release praised the detainee for his "positive constructive leadership in detention," including "mediating concerns raised between other detainees and between other detainees and the guard staff" at Guantánamo.

The transcript of the parole board's hearing was not made public, however, so it is unknown precisely what transpired to convince the board to recommend Obaidullah for release.

Guantánamo has lately seen an uptick in prisoners recommended for release, according to the Miami Herald

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.

It remains to be seen when Obaidullah and other prisoners cleared for release will leave Guantánamo. As Common Dreams has previously reported, the Department of Defense has "routinely and deliberately undermined" President Obama's efforts to move toward closing the notorious prison.


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