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Hunger striker among prisoners at Guantanamo slated for transfer

By ADAM GOLDMAN | The Washington Post | Published: March 30, 2016

The Pentagon has notified Congress that it intends to resettle nearly a dozen detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, including a Yemeni man who has been on hunger strike since 2007 and had lost about half his body weight, U.S. officials said.

The first of the transfers are expected to take place in the coming days with the others occurring over several weeks, officials said. At least two countries have agreed to accept the detainees, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss pending transfers.

Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said he could not comment on when detainees would be transferred. "The Administration is committed to reducing the detainee population and to closing the detention facility responsibly," he said in a statement.

There are 91 detainees at the military prison, with 37 detainees approved for repatriation or resettlement in a third country.

The Obama administration is pushing to have all the detainees who have been approved for transfer moved by summer. In February, the White House delivered a plan to Congress to close the facility, but it has met with stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers.

The best known of the detainees expected to be resettled in the coming weeks is Tariq Ba Odah, a 37-year-old Yemeni, whom the military has been force-feeding daily. That involves guards strapping him down, putting a rubber tube down his nose and pumping a liquid dietary supplement into his stomach. Last year, Ba Odah's weight dipped to 74 pounds.

He is one of 41 Yemenis housed at the prison who cannot be sent home because of a congressional ban on repatriations to Yemen.

Finding a country to accept him was a priority for the administration because of concerns that he could die in American custody. In 2013, President Barack Obama, referring to the hunger strikers at the prison, said he didn't want those "individuals to die."

The military has said his condition is dangerous but clinically stable, an assessment medical experts working with Ba Odah's lawyers have disputed. They warned he could die.

"A consistent weight range of 74 pounds is certainly not a sign of clinical stability; rather it is the opposite, as Mr. Ba Odah faces persistent, serious medical risk even without losing any more weight," said Dr. Sondra S. Crosby, an associate professor of medicine and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine, in a court filing.

Ba Odah was cleared for transfer in 2009, and his lawyers went to federal court in 2015 to seek his release, arguing that under the Geneva Conventions and Army Regulations, he was entitled to be freed on humanitarian grounds.

The Justice Department opposed any court-ordered release.

The judge, who heard arguments in October, has yet to rule on the motion.

Omar Farah, Ba Odah's lawyer, declined to comment.

Ba Odah fled Afghanistan in 2001 as the U.S. attacked the Taliban and al-Qaida forces and was arrested in Pakistan, where he was handed over to American Forces, according to military documents. He was taken to Guantanamo in 2002.

He was a suspected member of al-Qaida and fought in Osama bin Laden's Arab brigade, according to military documents made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Some of the information in those files has been discredited.

U.S. soldiers run in front of the Honor Bound sign at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, Cuba's Camp Delta in June 2010. The Obama administration on Tuesday gave Congress its plan to close down Guantanamo.
JOSHUA NISTAS/U.S. NAVY

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