US sends Algerians home from Guantánamo Bay after 5-year delay

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — The US military on Saturday shipped a prisoner to Algeria whose repatriation from Guantanamo Bay was arranged during the Obama administration but then delayed by five years.

The prisoner, Sufyian Barhoumi, 48, was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 and shortly afterwards taken to Guantánamo Bay where he was never tried. In August 2016, he was told he could be released, but his case was sidelined by a Trump administration policy of halting transfers in general.

The transfer was the second this year and the third since President Biden took office with the aim of closing Guantánamo. Now 37 detainees remain, including 18 who have been approved for release to another country’s detention if US diplomats can arrange secure deals for their exit.

“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 detainee population and the permanent closure of the Guantánamo Bay facility,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Saturday.

Barhoumi’s attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, described the prisoner as one of Guantánamo’s most cooperative prisoners, a man who helped ease tensions between unruly or frustrated prisoners and Army guards, who typically serve nine months were.

In 2017, at the start of Trump’s freeze, Mr Kadidal said, Mr Barhoumi interrupted the attorney’s explanation of the politics of his case, declaring, “It’s not you who decide when I leave this place, and it’s not politicians. it is god He decides when I leave. So I agree with his decision.”

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

Mr. Barhoumi’s father died while he was in detention. Once reunited with his family, he will become his ailing mother’s caretaker, Mr Kadidal said. He should be home in time for his youngest brother’s wedding in Algiers this year.

Algeria typically detains men returning from Guantánamo for short periods of time for interrogation. Typical security arrangements with the United States limit their travel for several years.

The Department of Defense briefed Congress in January of a plan to transfer Mr. Barhoumi on the statutory 30-day notice period, according to government officials with knowledge of the process. At the same time, Congress received a notice on diplomatic and security arrangements for the repatriation to Saudi Arabia of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a mentally ill detainee suspected of being the intended 20th kidnapper in the 9/11 attacks – and in the March was repatriated by the US military 7.

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

For a time, military prosecutors considered Mr Barhoumi a candidate for a trial as a bomb-making instructor at a safe house in the Punjab region of Pakistan. However, they dropped that case after a civilian court ruled that the Pentagon had no authority to charge the civilian offense “material support of terrorism” as a war crime. Mr Kadidal said that over time the government realized it had no evidence to support the case. US sends Algerians home from Guantánamo Bay after 5-year delay

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