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Guantanamo parole board approves release of bin Laden bodyguard

By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: February 20, 2016

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Tribune News Service) — The national security parole board has approved a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard for release to another country as the Pentagon-run panel works to accelerate reviews.

The board has six more hearings scheduled into May — two of them for so-called forever prisoners like the man whose approval to go was disclosed Friday and four of them former war-crimes trial candidates.

The board recommended release of Yemeni Majid Ahmed, 35, to an Arabic-speaking country with security precautions. An intelligence assessment concluded that he was recruited to joined the Taliban at age 18 or 19 and became a bin Laden bodyguard at 21, a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The board will soon hear from two former CIA “black site” prisoners in Guantanamo low-value detainee lockups.

The decision to approve the Ahmed’s release means that of Guantanamo’s 91 captives, 35 are approved for transfer, 10 are in war-crimes proceedings and the rest are either forever prisoners or candidates for war-crimes trials.

It said Ahmed “has been relatively compliant during his time at Guantanamo, although he has been largely uncooperative with interrogators.” The intelligence profile said he “still harbors anti-U.S. sentiments and holds conservative Islamic views that may make transfer and reintegration to many countries difficult.”

The board’s statement disclosing Ahmad’s approval for transfer recommended release to resettlement in an Arabic-speaking country, “with appropriate security assurances.” It was available on the Pentagon’s parole board website Saturday, a month after his Jan. 19 hearing.

It said release factors included Ahmed’s “relative candor in discussing his time in Afghanistan, acceptance of the mistakes he made, and a credible desire to not repeat those mistakes.” Further, the board noted his following the rules at the Guantanamo prison and that he was in his teens when he went to Afghanistan” and had “matured since entering detention.”

Ahmed arrived at Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2002, the week the detention center opened.

While many of the young Yemenis brought to Guantanamo in the early days were initially profiled as bin Laden bodyguards, not all continued to be so described by the time of their Periodic Review Board hearings. An earlier Obama administration task force declared Ahmed ineligible for trial but also ineligible for release in 2009.

A U.S. military officer advocating Ahmed’s release noted he had studied math, languages, health and art at the prison, and provided the board with samples of his classwork. The officer said in a statement that the Yemeni “is quick with a smile and exudes a warm personality.”

The board is scheduled to next hear from “forever prisoner” Mohamed al Ansi on Tuesday. After that, it has announced five hearings of men whom the 2009 task force once considered candidates for trials, including Pakistani Saifullah Paracha, 68, a former U.S. green-card holder, and Yemenis Abdulsalam al Hela, 48, Abdu Ali Sharqawi, 41, sometimes known as “Riyadh the Facilitator.”

©2016 Miami Herald
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