U.S. transfers Guantanamo detainee to Saudi Arabia

Image: The sun rises over Camp Delta detention compound at Guantanamo Bay
The sun rises over Camp Delta detention compound at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in 2008. Copyright Brennan Linsley
Copyright Brennan Linsley
By Alice Tidey and Associated Press and Courtney Kube with NBC News World News
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Forty men are still being held at the controversial U.S. military base in Cuba.


A Guantanamo Bay prisoner has been transferred to his native Saudi Arabia where he will serve the rest of his 13-year sentence, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday, making him the first detainee to leave the controversial detention center since President Donald Trump took office.

Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi pleaded guilty in 2014 to a 2002 al-Qaeda bomb attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

The Pentagon statement said that al-Darbi, who was originally scheduled to return home no later than February 20 as part of a plea deal, has now complied with the terms of the deal and that he has waived his right to appeal.

Before he was detained in 2002, al-Darbi worked for Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing. The October 2000 attack killed 17 U.S. sailors when an explosive-laden boat rammed into the U.S. Navy destroyer in Aden harbor.

As part of his agreement, al-Darbi testified about Nashiri's role in the 2000 USS Cole attack.

Saudi state security confirmed he arrived back in the country just before midnight on Wednesday.

His transfer brings the total number of men held at Guantanamo to 40. At its peak, the facility held 782 prisoners.

The agreement to repatriate al-Darbi was made under President Barack Obama, whose administration sought to gradually reduce the prison population in the hope of eventually closing the controversial detention center.

Trump reversed that policy and has vowed to continue using the detention center, although no new detainee has arrived at Guantanamo since his election.

In a separate statement Wednesday, the Defense Department said it had sent the White House a proposed set of guidelines for sending prisoners to Guantanamo in the future "should that person present a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States."

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to provide any details about the new policy.

Al-Darbi is expected to serve out the rest of his sentence, about nine years, in a Saudi rehabilitation program for convicted extremists that aims to help them assimilate back into society through frequent visits with relatives, religious counseling with moderate clerics, art therapy and even cash assistance to help them once out.

Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York representing al-Darbi since 2008, said the transfer was the culmination of "16 long and painful years in captivity" for his client.

"While it may not make him whole, my hope is that repatriation at least marks the end of injustice for Ahmed," said Kassem.

In a statement released by Kassem, al-Darbi thanked his family for their patience and love.

"Looking at what lies ahead, I feel a mixture of excitement, disbelief, and fear. I've never been a father. I've been here at Guantanamo. I've never held my son," he said. He also criticized the continued existence of the detention center.

"My words will not do justice to what I lived through in these years and to the men I leave behind in prison. No one should remain at Guantánamo without a trial. There is no justice in that," he said.

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