A panel established by the Obama administration to review the cases of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, announced the results of its first case on Thursday, recommending that a detainee who was previously deemed too dangerous to release be transferred out of the prison.
In a statement, the Defense Department said the board had agreed by consensus to recommend release for Mahmoud Abd al Aziz al Mujahid, a Yemeni detainee who was among the first to arrive at Guantanamo in January 2002. Mujahid, 36, is one of 87 Yemeni detainees still held at the facility, 56 of whom had been recommended for transfer by a 2010 Justice Department Task Force.
An assessment conducted by an earlier review board said Mujahid had allegedly trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and had ties to one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards. He participated in the precursor to the Periodic Review Boards — established by President Obama three years ago to assess the cases of detainees — three times. Each time, he was recommended for continued detention.
Mujahid was never charged by a military commission. Documents released Thursday by the Defense Department indicate that he has been a model detainee at the facility for the last 12 years.
According to the government’s summary of his case, he “has not provided valuable information regarding Al-Qaida’s operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He was, however, very cooperative with interrogators concerning events at Guantanamo and detainee issues generally.
While in captivity, Mujahid has made efforts to prepare himself for his release and to re-enter society. He took English and computer classes.
“We are pleased with the decision. Now that Mahmoud has been cleared, he can be transferred — there is no justification for holding him,” said David Remes, Mujahid’s attorney. “After 12 years at Guantanamo, it is time to reunite him with his family.”
Remes said he informed the Yemeni of the board’s decision on Monday. He was initially quiet for a moment when he heard the news — then Remes said, “he was delighted.”
In his statement to the Periodic Review Board, Mujahid stated his preference to be transferred to a Western country.
It is unclear, however, when Mujahid will be transferred or where he will be sent.
Of the 155 detainees who remain in the facility, 77 have been approved for transfer and 71 are eligible for the Periodic Review Board process. The other detainees are either involved in ongoing military commission proceedings or have been found guilty by the military commission.
While at Guantanamo, Mujahid has received instruction in English from a Pakistani detainee named Saifullah Paracha.
Paracha — who has taught more than 35 other inmates how to read and speak English, assigned homework and disciplined detainees for tardiness — submitted a statement in support of Mujahid’s release from Guantanamo.
“Mahmoud claims and acknowledges that my teaching and interaction with him has completely changed his life,” Paracha said. “My feeling is he is a very intelligent person and I helped him restore his confidence. I do hope and pray for him to be a successful businessman, kind family man, and bona fide citizen.”