Saudi Accepts Four Guantanamo Captives; Prison Now Holds 55

MIAMI (Miami Herald/TNS) -

The U.S. sent four cleared Yemeni captives from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, including a captive who previously backed out of an offer to resettle in Europe, the Saudi government announced Thursday.

None of the four men was ever charged with a crime across 15 years of U.S. military custody. The transfer left 55 captives at the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba — 19 cleared for release to security arrangements and 36 indefinite detainees in the war on terror, 10 of them charged with war crimes.

Mohammed Bwazir, 36, balked at an offer of resettlement in Montenegro in January 2016, saying he wanted only to go to a nation where he had family. This week, he got his wish and was sent to the Saudi rehabilitation program along with three other Yemeni captives with close kin in the Kingdom: Mohammed Abu Ghanem, 41, Salem bin Kanad, 41, and Abdullah al-Shibli, 39.

Ghanem, profiled as a probable bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, arrived at the detention center the day Camp X-Ray opened and was photographed on his knees in an iconic Pentagon-issued image. His transfer leaves just two of those first 20 captives at the prison.

Ghanem was captured in Pakistan, apparently having fled the battle of Tora Bora, according to leaked U.S. intelligence profiles, while the other three were captured by U.S.-allied Afghan forces and turned over to the U.S. military in Afghanistan early on in the invasion.

Bwazir captured international attention a year ago by refusing a resettlement offer from Montenegro at the door of the U.S. military cargo plane. The Yemeni was shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles when he backed out at the ramp of a C-17 cargo plane on the Guantanamo airstrip, Jan. 20, 2016, said the warden at the time, Army Col. David Heath. The Yemeni captive “made it clear that, ‘I do not want to leave. I want to go back to my cell.’ So that’s what we did,” Heath said last year, declaring the decision “disappointing.”

Bwazir’s lawyer, John Chandler, said the young man was anxious about going to a non-Arabic-speaking country with no family support. But when he spoke to him at Guantanamo last week, ahead of his transfer to Saudi Arabia, Bwazir had no such reluctance.

His mother, brother and uncle live in Saudi Arabia, Chandler said, and “he was thrilled.”

The Atlanta-based attorney described his Muslim client as very excited. He told me there would be no problem getting on that plane, that if they took off the cuffs he’d run onto it.”

Saudi Arabia was “where he wanted to go,” Chandler added. “It’s just sort of astonishing to me that the kid held out for a year and he’s going to a decent place, a very decent place.”

More transfers are expected to Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and possibly again to Saudi Arabia in an Obama administration effort to downsize the detention center to around 40 captives by the time President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Conspicuously missing from the list released by the Saudi Kingdom was their one cleared national at Guantanamo.

The Periodic Review Board said in October that Jabran Qahtani, 39, should be repatriated to possible prosecution and definite rehabilitation. At one point Qahtani was charged at military commission in a since-abandoned foot soldier case alleging he was part of a Pakistan-based bomb-making cell.