Biden administration transfers its first detainee from Guantanamo Bay
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Monday moved its first detainee from Guantanamo Bay, bringing home a Moroccan who had been recommended for release from a war prison starting in 2016 but who remained there during the Trump years.
moving man, Abdul Latif NasserThe 56-year-old was the first sign of a renewed effort under President Biden to liquidate prisoners by sending them to other countries that pledge to ensure the men remain under security. Mr. Nasser has never been charged with a crime.
The transfer, pursued by the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had collapsed under Donald J. Trump. With Mr. Nasser’s departure, there are now 39 prisoners in Guantánamo, 11 of whom are accused of war crimes. At its peak in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, the prison complex at the US Naval Base there held about 675 men.
Far more complex political decisions about transfers await the Biden team, including whether or not to transfer a mentally ill Saudi man. Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was tortured at Guantánamo and is considered one of several candidates to be the 20th potential 9/11 hijacker.
The remaining 28 prisoners who have not been charged in nearly two decades of incarceration are being held as Mr. Nasser was – as indefinite law-of-war detainees in the armed conflict against al-Qaeda. Of those, 10 were recommended to be transferred with security arrangements by a federal commission similar to parole.
While the Biden White House supports the goal of closing the prison, it has taken a low-key approach to the effort. Mr. Obama made it a signature policy, ordering the prison’s closure during his first year in office – and failing in the face of stiff opposition from Congress. Mr. Biden and his aides have sought to avoid provoking the same kind of backlash by quietly working to start reducing the prison population again.
“The United States is grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for its willingness to support the ongoing US effort to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” a senior administration official said Sunday, while the transfer was in progress, declining to be identified by name. . The official said the White House was “dedicated to a deliberate and comprehensive process of responsibly reducing the number of detainees and ultimately closing Guantanamo Bay.”
Military intelligence officials portrayed Nasser as a former Taliban fighter who fought invading US forces in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001. He told an interagency panel through a representative Five years ago, he said he “deeply regrets his actions in the past,” the government commission agreed to release him on July 11, 2016, on the condition that he be sent to his native Morocco only with security guarantees from its government.
Details of these arrangements are not public, but in the Obama years it usually included not allowing the former detainee to travel abroad for several years and the obligation to monitor him and share information about him with the US government.
US forces handed Mr. Nasser over to Moroccan government custody early Monday. Mr. Nasser’s family members in Casablanca have pledged their support by finding him working for his brother’s swimming pool cleaning company, his attorney Thomas Anthony Dworkin of Chicago said.
Mr. Durkin, who has represented Mr. Nasser for more than a decade, noted that Mr. Nasser was about to be released in early 2017 when the Trump administration halted all transfers and closed the office at the State Department that negotiated security arrangements for such deals.
Only one detainee left prison during the Trump years, and under very different circumstances: A recognized al-Qaeda terrorist was sent back to Saudi Arabia to serve a prison sentence imposed by a US military commission, according to an earlier plea agreement.
In a statement, Durkin called the last four years of Mr. Nasser’s 19-year detention “collateral damage to the policies of the Trump administration and zealous Republicans in the war on terror,” adding: “If this was a wrongful conviction in Cook County, it would be worth $20 million.”
“We applaud the Biden administration for not causing more damage,” he said.
The senior official said the Biden administration did not renegotiate the Obama-era agreement to repatriate Mr. Nasser, but that the State Department needed to “reconfirm” the terms of the transfer agreement with Morocco. Not detected.
Dedicated public radio personality with a similar name, Latif Nasser, now works on the public radio program “Radiolab” Six-part audio series To questions about whether activities close to himself, including a stint at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, are worth two decades of US military detention.
Mr. Nasir, a Guantánamo detainee, was captured in 2001 by Pakistani security forces, who handed him over to the US military.
As part of its low-level approach, Biden’s team has not revived the position of an Obama-era special envoy to travel the world to negotiate deals for other countries to take in lower-level detainees. Instead, regional diplomats and professional staff at the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism Office held talks with the Moroccan government, according to officials familiar with the matter.
“We are trying to find a way to act on a case by case basis,” Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinkin He said at a debate on human rights in Paris on June 25. “In some cases, you need to find a country that is willing to welcome the person in question”
Once a country is identified, he said, “we must have a guarantee that the rights of these people will be protected in that country. It is not easy either.”
The administration has reactivated a parole-like process established in the Obama years to look into every detainee who has not been charged with crimes, to decide whether to recommend extradition to another state. The Interagency Periodic Review Board has announced five decisions since Biden took office, and all of these detainees have been approved for transfer — Including the older man held at Guantanamo, a 73-year-old Pakistani who suffers from heart disease and other aging diseases.
The committee includes representatives from six national security agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Homeland Security, but recommending transfers does not guarantee release. The State Department has yet to come up with a transfer deal, and the Secretary of Defense must approve it in person and submit notification to Congress.
The council also held a hearing on May 18 on the recommendation to transfer the Saudi prisoner who was tortured in Guantánamo, Mr. Al-Qahtani, but did not announce a decision.
he have separate suit pending in federal court on whether his psychiatric condition, acute schizophrenia, justified returning him to medical care in Saudi Arabia because he could not receive appropriate care at the naval base. As part of that lawsuit, his attorneys obtained a court order to have him examined by a panel of physicians, including two non-Americans.
During the Trump administration, the Justice Department opposed that lawsuit, and days before Mr. Trump left office, the Secretary of the Army changed a regulation to try to exclude all Guantánamo prisoners, notably Mr. Qahtani, from the possibility of an independent court-ordered examination abroad. the doctors.
Some Democrats in Congress, signaling their impatience with the pace of efforts to close the prison, have proposed legislation in the Appropriations Committee that would halt funding for the detention at Guantanamo, which has been estimated to Costs over $13 million per prisoner per year.
But doing so requires finding a place for the remaining 39 detainees. Even if Mr. Nasser’s transfer to Morocco turns out to be the first transfer of lower-level detainees, it will not alone lead to the prison’s closure.
Some prisoners will have to be brought to the United States, possibly in military detention, notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has yet to stand trial as the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
Current federal law dating from early 2011 prohibits such transfers. Biden White House 2022 budget proposal Restores presidential authority to transfer Guantánamo detainees to a prison on the mainland. But that is up to Congress.
Republicans and some Democrats opposed the transfer of Mr. Mohammed and the others to US custody and sought to raise concerns that bringing them to trial on US soil or simply being held on the mainland would be more dangerous to national security. . Opponents of the restrictions say the federal government is already holding many convicted terrorists safely on local soil and that bringing detainees from Guantánamo to a similar facility would be no different.
In a sign that such political messages may return soon, on May 25, Eight Republican Senators wrote to Mr. Biden Opposing his intention to close the detention center through transfers.
“The remaining 40 detainees are all at great risk,” the senators wrote. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma led the effort. The others who signed the agreement were Marsha Blackburn, Kevin Kramer, Ted Cruz, Steve Daines, James M. Inhoff, Jerry Moran and Tom Tellis.