A Kuwaiti jet early Friday departed from the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with a freed captive once suspected of being Osama bin Laden’s adviser, leaving 104 war-on-terror prisoners in the remote detention center President Barack Obama wants closed.
Fayez al Kandari, 38, was held at Guantánamo as Detainee 552 since May 2002. Although a war court prosecutor at one point prepared a case against him, he was never formally charged with a crime.
Kandari was the last of a dozen citizens of the U.S-allied emirate taken to Guantánamo. With his departure, just 16 nations are represented in the prison; the majority of remaining captives are Yemenis.
“He goes home with optimism and looks forward to resuming a peaceful life and to putting Guantánamo behind him,” Kandari’s Washington, D.C., based attorney, Eric Lewis, said in a statement.
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He added that, after a medical examination at a Kuwaiti military hospital, Kandari would be “remanded to a comprehensive rehabilitation program” set up by the Kuwaiti government to help him “reintegrate into Kuwaiti society after more than 14 years in detention.”
Fourteen more releases are expected throughout the month, as well as more parole board decisions that could clear more so-called “forever prisoners” for transfer.
U.S. officials had been particularly leery about Kuwaiti repatriations after one detainee sent home in 2005 turned up in Mosul, Iraq, three years later as a suicide bomber, indicating the emirate’s monitoring system was lacking. At least seven Iraqis were killed in the attack.
But a national security parole board decided Sept. 8 that Kandari could safely go home to an inpatient rehabilitation program and “robust security measures to include monitoring and travel restrictions.” The rehab program, it noted, should last at least a year “to achieve the necessary progress in his mental and behavioral health in order to reintegrate him with his family and society.”
In the closing days of the George W. Bush administration, war court prosecutors swore out charges against Kandari alleging he was a confidant of Bin Laden who fought at Tora Bora with al-Qaida forces resisting the U.S. invasion in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. But he was never formally charged at the war court, and in 2012 an Obama administration-era prosecutor dismissed the case.
Kandari consistently denied the allegation, and claimed he was a charity worker in Afghanistan at the time of his capture.
By the time Obama’s national security parole board reviewed his file last year, a U.S. military profile described him as “a Kuwaiti al-Qaida recruiter and propagandist who probably served as Osama bin Laden’s ‘spiritual adviser.’ ”
It is not known what Kandari told board members to persuade them to lift his status as an indefinite detainee because, at the prisoner’s prerogative, both his written statement and the unclassified transcript of his hearing were not released for the public to see.
Kandari was an active participant in the widespread hunger strike that swept through the prison in early 2013. He was being force-fed in April 2013, his lawyer said at the time, because the 5-foot, 6-inch man had withered to 108 pounds and had the waist of a small child.
Typically, freed captives leave the offshore prison similarly to the way they were brought there years ago — shackled and masked aboard U.S. Air Force cargo planes. Gulf nations, however, have made a point of fetching their freed captives to spare them such treatment and signal that their rehabilitation has begun. The Pentagon disclosed the transfer after Kandari’s flight departed the base Friday morning.
Attorney Eric Lewis: Mr. al Kandari is delighted to be going home and reuniting with his beloved parents and family after all these years away. We are grateful to the Government of Kuwait for its dedication and commitment to bringing its citizens home and to the Kuwaiti Family Committee, headed by Khalid al Odah and Abdul Rahman Al Haroun of ICB for its ceaseless efforts to bring home these men. Mr. al Kandari was never charged with any crime. He goes home with optimism and looks forward to resuming a peaceful life and to putting Guantánamo behind him.
Pentagon: On Sept. 8, 2015, the Periodic Review Board consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined continued law of war detention of [Fayez al Kandari] does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Al-Kandari was recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board. The Periodic Review Board process was established by the president’s March 7, 2011 Executive Order 13567.