WASHINGTON – The Biden administration moved its first inmate from Guantánamo Bay on Monday and repatriated a Moroccan who had been recommended for release from prison in 2016 but stayed there during the Trump years.
The rendition of the man, Abdul Latif Nasser, 56, was the first sign of renewed efforts under President Biden to identify the prisoners’ population by sending them to other countries that promise the men will remain under security measures. Mr. Nasser has never been charged with a crime.
The transfer process operated by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations was stunted under Donald J. Trump. With the departure of Mr Nasser, 39 prisoners are now in Guantánamo, 11 of whom are charged with war crimes. At its peak in the years following the attacks and invasion of Afghanistan on September 11, 2001, the prison complex at the US naval base there contained around 675 men.
Far more complex political decisions about transfers await the Biden team, including whether or not a mentally ill Saudi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was tortured in Guantánamo, is one of several candidates for a possible 20th kidnapper on May 9-11 .
The remaining 28 prisoners, who have not been charged in the nearly two decades of their imprisonment, are being held like Nasser – as permanent prisoners of war in the armed conflict against Al Qaeda. Of these, 10 were recommended for security transfers by a state probation body.
While the Biden White House supports the goal of closing the prison, it is taking a cautious approach. Mr Obama made it a signature policy and ordered the prison to be closed during his first year in office – and failed in the face of fierce opposition from Congress. Mr Biden and his staff have tried to avoid the same type of backlash by working quietly to reduce the prison population again.
“The United States is grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for its willingness to support the ongoing US efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center,” said a senior administrator on Sunday when the rendition was in progress, and therefore declined, by name to become . The official said the White House was “dedicated to a conscious and thorough process of responsible reduction of the prison population and the eventual closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.”
Military intelligence officials have identified Nasser as a former Taliban fighter who fought against invading US forces in the Tora Bora Mountains in late 2001 through a representative five years ago that he “deeply regrets his past actions” and was approved for release by the government body on July 11, 2016, on condition that he is only sent to his home country of Morocco with government security assurances.
Details of such agreements are not public, but in the Obama years they typically included that the former inmate would not be allowed to travel abroad for several years and the obligation to monitor him and provide information about him to the American government.
US forces delivered Mr. Nasser to Moroccan government custody early Monday. Mr Nasser’s family members in Casablanca have pledged to support him by finding him at his brother’s pool cleaning company, said Chicago attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin.
Mr Durkin, who has represented Mr Nasser for more than a decade, noted that Mr Nasser was on the verge of release in early 2017 when the Trump administration halted all transfers and closed the State Department office that has safeguards for such offers.
Only one inmate left prison during the Trump years, and under very different circumstances: an avowed al-Qaida terrorist was returned to Saudi Arabia to serve a sentence imposed by a US military commission under an earlier settlement agreement.
In a statement, Mr Durkin described the last four years of Mr Nasser’s 19 year incarceration as “collateral damage to the crude policies of the Trump administration and the ardent Republican war-on-terrorism hawks,” adding, “If this were a false conviction ? In Cook County it would be worth $ 20 million. “
“We applaud the Biden government for not causing further damage,” he said.
The Biden administration did not renegotiate the Obama-era deal to repatriate Mr Nasser, the senior official said, but the State Department must “confirm” the terms of the transfer agreement with Morocco. They were not disclosed.
A public radio personality with a similar name, Latif Nasser, is now dedicated to the public radio show “Radiolab” a six-part audio series when asked whether his near-namesake’s activities, including a stay at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, merited two decades of US military imprisonment.
The Guantánamo prisoner Nasser was arrested in 2001 by Pakistani security forces who handed him over to the American military.
As part of its low-key approach, the Biden team has not revived the position of Obama-era special envoy traveling the world negotiating lower-level agreements for other countries to accept prisoners. Instead, regional diplomats and professional staff from the Foreign Ministry’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau held talks with the Moroccan government, officials familiar with the matter.
“We try to find a way to act on a case-by-case basis,” said Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken said at a human rights discussion in Paris on June 25th. “In certain cases you need to find a country that is ready to accept the person in question.”
Once a country is identified, he said, “we need to have a guarantee that the rights of these people will be protected in that country. It’s not easy either. “
The government has revived a probation-like process instituted in the Obama years to review any convict who has not been charged with crimes whether to recommend that they be transferred to another country’s custody. The inter-agency Periodic Review Board has announced five decisions since Mr. Biden took office, and all of these detainees have been approved for transfer – including the oldest man in Guantánamo, a 73-year-old Pakistani with heart disease and other old-age ailments.
The panel is made up of representatives from six national security agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Pentagon Joint Staff, and the Department of Homeland Security, but a move recommendation does not guarantee release. The State Department has yet to submit a transfer agreement, and the Secretary of Defense must personally approve it and communicate it to Congress.
The board also held a hearing on May 18 on whether to recommend the transfer of the Saudi prisoner tortured in Guantánamo, Mr. Qahtani, but has not announced a decision.
He has a separate lawsuit pending in federal court as to whether his psychiatric condition, acute schizophrenia, justifies his return to medical care in Saudi Arabia because he cannot receive adequate care at the naval base. As part of that lawsuit, his attorneys obtained a court order to have him examined by a medical panel, including two non-American ones.
The Justice Department during the Trump administration had resisted this lawsuit, and days before Mr. Trump stepped down, his Army Secretary amended an ordinance to try to exclude all Guantánamo prisoners, especially Mr. Qahtani, from the possibility of a court-ordered independent investigation exclude doctors outdoors.
Some Democrats in Congress, signaling their impatience at the pace of efforts to close the prison, have proposed a law in the Mediation Committee that would lift Guantánamo’s detention, which is estimated to cost more than $ 13 million per prisoner per year.
However, this would require finding a place for the remaining 39 inmates. And even if Mr Nasser’s transfer to Morocco turns out to be the first excitement, the transfer of lower-level detainees alone will not close the prison.
Some prisoners would have to be taken to the United States, possibly to a military detention center, most notably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is not yet to be tried as the culprit behind the 9/11 attacks.
The current federal law from the beginning of 2011 prohibits such transfers. The Biden White House Budget proposal 2022 would restore the president’s authority to transfer Guantanamo detainees to a prison on the mainland. But that would be a matter for Congress.
Republicans and some Democrats have spoken out against the rendition of Mr Mohammed and the others in custody in the United States, trying to stir up fears that trial on US soil or simple incarceration on the mainland poses greater danger to the national one Would represent security. Opponents of the restrictions say the federal government is already holding many convicted terrorists securely on domestic soil and that it would be no different to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to similar detention.
As a sign that such political messages could soon return on May 25th, eight Republican senators wrote to Mr. Biden against his intention to close the detention center by rendition.
“The remaining 40 prisoners are all associated with high risk,” wrote the senators. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma led the effort. The other signatories were Marsha Blackburn, Kevin Cramer, Ted Cruz, Steve Daines, James M. Inhofe, Jerry Moran, and Thom Tillis.