The Pentagon announced Thursday that it had repatriated a Mauritanian detainee who languished at the prison at Guantanamo Bay for years after he was approved for transfer and U.S. diplomats had completed a deal with his native country to send him home.
Ahmed Ould Abdel al-Aziz was captured in 2002 in Karachi at a suspected al-Qaeda safehouse by Pakistani forces and transferred to Guantanamo, according to U.S. military files disclosed by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
He was cleared for released in 2009, the same year Mauritania agreed to accept him. But his transfer was repeatedly delayed for reasons that remain unclear.
Aziz, 45, was never charged with a crime.
John Holland, Aziz’s lawyer, said his release was “far too long in coming” and he can now “resume his life with his loving family and meet his son, born just after his capture.”
A total of 113 detainees remain at the prison, with 53 of them cleared for repatriation or resettlement in a third country.
Aziz is one of dozen transfers that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has approved and blunts criticism that he has not been moving fast enough to achieve the president’s goal of closing the facility.
Pentagon officials have defended Carter, saying he cleared a backlog of detainees he inherited from the previous secretary of defense, who was fired in part for failing to accelerate the number of transfers.
The White House is hoping to reduce the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to below 100 before the end of year, but the administration has yet to finalize a plan that would completely shutter the prison.
According to the files released by WikiLeaks, Aziz was a member of al-Qaeda who had sworn allegiance to its leader Osama bin Laden, but he “steadfastly denied” any involvement in terrorism.
The files also claimed that he was a close associate of bin Laden religious advisor Abu Hafs al-Mauritanian who fled Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He returned to Mauritania after spending years in Iran and was freed in 2012.