A Saudi detainee and a longtime hunger striker at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was once deemed too dangerous to release has been repatriated, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
A military review board in June cleared Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, for release. The board said that the effectiveness of the Saudi rehabilitation program that he is to enter and the country’s ability to monitor him were important factors in its decision.
The board also noted the detainee’s “credible desire” to re-integrate into society and participate in the rehabilitation program, but it “acknowledges the detainee’s past terrorist-related activities.”
The board was created in 2011 as part of the administration’s attempt to close a prison that President Obama has said undermines the country’s “core constitutional values.”
Shalabi has denied involvement with al-Qaeda, but several other detainees have identified him as one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards.
Shalabi was captured in Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to U.S. custody.
A total of 114 detainees remain at the prison, with 52 cleared to be transferred home or to a third country for resettlement. This is the second detainee transfer in a week.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has faced criticism for failing to approve transfers quickly enough, potentially putting himself at odds with the president. He has signed off on the transfer of eight detainees since taking the top job at the Pentagon in mid-February, but most of those were previously arranged.
His predecessor approved the transfer of 44 detainees over a two-year period.
With Shalabi’s transfer, there are nine Saudis remaining at the prison, but only Shaker Aamer, a British resident, has been cleared for release.
Carter is expected to approve his transfer in the coming weeks, along with one for Ahmed Ould Abdel al-Aziz, a Mauritanian.
Shalabi, whose weight has dropped to as low as 101 pounds, has been on hunger strike since 2005. He has required tube feedings on a daily basis for the past nine years.
Shalabi’s nephew was a detainee at the prison who was sent back to Saudi Arabia in 2006.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.