The U.S. military has delivered a long-held, mistakenly profiled Yemeni captive held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo to resettlement in the African archipelago of Cape Verde, reducing the prison’s population to 59, the Pentagon said Sunday.
Shawqi Awad Balzuhair was among a series of one-time “forever prisoners” whose danger was downgraded by the U.S. intelligence community in recent years.
Twenty of the remaining prisoners are approved for release.
In July the interagency Periodic Review Board called Balzuhair a “low-level fighter” who was probably trying to get home to Yemen when he was captured Sept. 11, 2002 in Pakistan, not a would-be terrorist waiting in an al-Qaida safe house for assignment.
Balzuhair was never charged with a crime.
“Shawqi is a private man who seeks anonymity upon his release,” said his attorney Angela Viramontes, a federal public defender in Riverside, Calif. “He looks forward to having a wife, children, and a job, the experiences most young men hope for that Shawqi has yet to experience.”
A U.S. Air Force cargo plane took Balzuhair from Guantanamo on Friday morning. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter provided Congress with notice of his “intent to transfer this individual and of the secretary’s determination that this transfer meets the statutory standard,” a Pentagon statement said.
Ten of the remaining Guantanamo prisoners are charged with war crimes and 29 are “forever prisoners,” long-held captives considered too dangerous to release but ineligible for a war-crimes trial.
Leaked prison records show Balzuhair was born in Hadramawt, Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland. But long-standing U.S. policy has forbidden the return of most Guantanamo captives to the Arabian Peninsula nation with its civil war and powerful al-Qaida franchise.
Cape Verde, a predominantly Roman Catholic island nation of about 550,000 people, is on a volcanic archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. A CIA World Factbook estimate put the Muslim population at 1.8 percent in 2010.