US returns Algerian from Guantánamo Bay after 5 years delay

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – The US military on Saturday delivered to Algeria a prisoner whose repatriation from Guantánamo Bay had been arranged under the Obama administration but was then delayed for five years.

The prisoner, Sufyian Barhoumi, 48, was captured in Pakistan in March 2002 and quickly taken to Guantánamo Bay, where he was never tried. He was told in August 2016 that he was eligible for release, but his case was brushed aside by a Trump administration policy that has generally halted transfers.

The transfer was the second this year and the third since President Biden took office with the aim of shutting down Guantánamo. Today, 37 detainees remain in custody, including 18 whose release into the custody of another country is approved if US diplomats can arrange safe deals for them to leave.

“The United States appreciates the willingness of Algeria and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts toward a deliberate and thorough process focused on the responsible reduction of the detained population and, ultimately, the closure of the facility. Guantánamo Bay,” the Pentagon said in a statement Saturday.

Barhoumi’s lawyer, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, described the prisoner as one of Guantanamo’s most cooperative captives, a man who helped ease tensions between unruly or frustrated prisoners and guards. army who usually served nine-month tours of duty.

In 2017, at the start of Trump’s freeze, Mr. Kadidal said, Mr. Barhoumi interrupted the lawyer’s explanation of the politics of his case, saying: “It’s not you who decides when I leave this place, and it’s not the politicians. It’s God. He decides when I will go. I therefore agree with his decision.

US officials had planned to transfer Mr. Barhoumi in March, but the mission was delayed by logistics and then by bad weather, which forced a cargo plane carrying the prisoner bound for Algeria to turn back.

Mr. Barhoumi’s father died while in detention. Once reunited with his family, he will become his sick mother’s caretaker, Mr Kadidal said. He is expected to be home well in advance for his youngest brother’s wedding this year in Algiers.

Algeria has generally detained men returning from Guantánamo for a brief period of interrogation. Typical security agreements with the United States restrict their movement for several years.

The Department of Defense notified Congress in January of Mr. Barhoumi’s proposed transfer, according to government officials familiar with the process, under the legal requirement of 30 days’ notice. Congress simultaneously received notice of diplomatic and security arrangements for the repatriation to Saudi Arabia of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a mentally ill detainee who was suspected of being the 20th hijacker planned in the attacks of the September 11 – and was repatriated by the US military on March 13. 7.

The Biden administration’s first transfer took place in July, when the United States repatriated a Moroccan whose transfer had also been arranged in late 2016 by State Department special envoy Lee Wolosky. Rather than make that deal, the Trump administration shut down the office of the special envoy for the Guantánamo shutdown, which was not reinstated by Mr. Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken.

For a time, military prosecutors considered Mr Barhoumi a candidate for trial as a bomb-making instructor at a safe house in the Punjab region of Pakistan. They dropped that case, however, after a civil court ruled that the Pentagon lacked the authority to charge the civil offense of “providing material support to terrorism” as a war crime. Mr Kadidal said that over time the government realized it had no evidence to support the case.

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