Thursday Feb 22 2018

Pentagon hopes Guantanamo inmate will 'soon' go to Saudi Arabia

Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi in an undated photo by the International Red Cross. Image via The Gitmo Observer

WASHINGTON: A Guantanamo Bay detainee — who pleaded guilty to helping plan a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker — is set to be transferred from the military prison to Saudi Arabia, a US official said Tuesday.

Saudi citizen Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al-Darbi has cooperated with the government since entering his plea as part of a deal four years ago, and authorities say he should now be sent to a Saudi rehabilitation centre for extremists.

If transferred, Darbi would be the first Guantanamo inmate to be released since US President Donald Trump took office more than a year ago.

Darbi entered a plea deal in February 2014 that saw him admit to planning, aiding, and supporting an attack on the MV Limburg, which killed a Bulgarian sailor, injured a dozen, and caused a large oil spill in the Gulf of Aden.

As part of his plea, Darbi has provided evidence against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — another Saudi Guantanamo detainee, who faces the death penalty on charges he masterminded the MV Limburg attack and the 2000 attack against the USS Cole in Yemen that left 17 dead.

Commander Sarah Higgins — a Pentagon spokesperson — said the Defense Department hopes Darbi's transfer "will take place soon".

"Darbi has complied with all terms of his plea agreement," she said.

Darbi was sentenced to 13 years in prison, starting from the date of the plea.

The deal included a provision that after four more years at Guantanamo, he could serve the remainder of his term at a luxurious rehab centre in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where former extremists are given counselling and ideological detoxification.

"We await assurances from the Saudi Arabian government to move forward on his departure," Higgins said.

According to a transcript of an October hearing, prosecutors said Darbi gave a wide range of help to the Limburg attackers "including providing or obtaining visas for the terrorists that actually took part in the attack, providing them housing, purchasing equipment."

Darbi's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Legal shambles

Instead of being tried in a US civilian court, Nashiri and other inmates are going through a legal process known as the military commissions, which were drawn up to prosecute Guantanamo captives.

Among those facing trial are several alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, including accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

But their cases have been beset with legal challenges and seemingly interminable delays, and Nashiri's trial collapsed in disarray last week.

Military commissions judge Air Force Colonel Vance Spath had to halt that case in frustration — at one point threatening to retire — because he could not compel Nashiri's main lawyers to show up in court.

His lawyers last year said their privileged conversations with and about their client had been monitored by the government, and that they could not proceed with his defence.

A total of 41 inmates remain at Guantanamo, but Trump has vowed to send more detainees to the notorious prison, which is located on a US naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

Of the 41, five inmates apart from Darbi were cleared for transfer under former US president Barack Obama, but efforts to fly them out before Trump took office failed at the last minute.