By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Sixteen detainees were transferred out of the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to authorities in Saudi Arabia, Pentagon officials announced yesterday, amid discussions within the Bush administration about how to close the facility.
Included in the unusually large group was Bahraini national Jumah al-Dossari, 33, a longtime Guantanamo Bay detainee who had drawn attention for trying to kill himself nearly two dozen times. Dossari, who has family ties to Saudi Arabia, wrote emotional letters to his U.S. civilian lawyer describing agonizing years in U.S. custody.
Yesterday's transfer -- the largest since 34 detainees left Guantanamo in one week in December -- is indicative of the Bush administration's desire to reduce the prison population there. "Today's transfer represented a fairly large group. We're down to 360, so we're making progress there," said Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
"There are certain risks you take with every transfer," he added. "The Saudi Arabian government provided credible assurances that the detainees will be treated humanely and that they will take tangible steps to mitigate the threat that these individuals pose."
The detainees arrived in Riyadh early yesterday morning, when they were taken into Saudi custody and immediately received food and clothes and met with family members. Dossari's older brother Khaled, 38, said in a telephone interview that he was excited to see his brother after six years of incarceration. He said his brother looked gaunt, much older than his years and deeply tired.
"When I looked at him, I thought, 'Oh, my God, is this my brother?' " said Khaled al-Dossari. "He was describing the pain he had in Guantanamo and the days he was really sick. He's trying to forget those days." He said Saudi officials plan to release his brother in a matter of days.
The U.S. military concluded in 2004 that Dossari was an enemy combatant, and he was not subsequently cleared for release by the military's annual review boards. U.S. authorities alleged that he was present at the Tora Bora training camp in Afghanistan in 2001 and referred in court papers to an alleged al-Qaeda recruiting trip he made to the United States, where he gave rousing speeches in places such as Lackawanna, N.Y.
Dossari, according to military records, admitted giving a "fiery sermon" there but said he never advocated attacking the country. He denied going to Tora Bora and challenged other allegations against him.
Dossari was held in a small cell and eventually started cutting at his arteries with razor blades and other metal objects. In October 2005, Dossari left a meeting with his attorney, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, on an apparent bathroom break and was found a few minutes later hanging from a makeshift noose.
Military guards and doctors revived Dossari after each attempt and ultimately moved him to a psychiatric ward. Pentagon officials have maintained that all detainees receive excellent care. Four detainees committed suicide in the past year.
Dossari two weeks ago tried to sever an artery in his thigh a day before meeting with Colangelo-Bryan, citing his lack of hope for release. In a letter dated April 18, Dossari told his attorney that "misfortunes have become unbearable" and that "death has become the ultimate hope to end my misery, my suffering, and my sad life."
"We are facing here the most horrible type of oppression, physical torture, and terrorizing treatment," Dossari wrote, later lamenting his inability to take his own life. "I am a human being -- but a dead one, without rights, dignity, humanity or identity."
Approximately 415 detainees have been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay since 2002; yesterday's group also included a Saudi citizen who was among the first group of detainees to arrive at Guantanamo on Jan. 12, 2002.
Military prosecutors say they hope eventually to try another 80 or so detainees at hearings of military commissions, and State Department officials are optimistic that other countries will agree to take custody of those who the United States says need further incarceration. White House officials are discussing the possibility of bringing some detainees to military prisons in the United States. Military commission hearings are stalled amid legal challenges and a Supreme Court review.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.