Pentagon preps to release dozen Gitmo detainees

By Cheryl Chumley

The Obama administration's hope is to close Guantanamo Bay.
The Obama administration’s hope is to close Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration is set to release another dozen detainees at Guantanamo Bay in the coming weeks, including at least one who was previously dubbed one of the “worst of the worst” in America’s war on terror, and who has lost half his body weight during a years-long hunger strike.

Others set for release have been incarcerated in part because they’ve killed Americans, Fox News reported.

“I do not have a timeline on when particular detainees will be transferred from Guantanamo,” said Defense Department spokesman Commander Gary Ross, in widely reported comments. “However, the administration is committed to reducing the detainee population and to closing the detention facility responsibly.”

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Bah Odah, also called Tariq Ba Odah, a 37-year-old Yemeni, is among the dozen slated for release and resettlement. He’s been on a hunger strike at Gitmo since 2007, dropping from about 148 pounds to 74 pounds, and has been force-fed by nasal tube for years. Fox News reported he’s a former al-Qaida fighter.

He was also among the detainees at Gitmo labeled the “worst of the worst” in America’s war on terror, reported. He was cleared for release six years ago, but has nonetheless been detained.

“Given that he has been cleared since 2009, there is no dispute about whether he should be approved for transfer,” said his attorney to the Guardian in 2015. “All the president has to decide is whether to exercise his discretion not to contest the motion and release [Odah] so that he does not die [from starvation].”

One anonymously sourced government official said in this same Guardian article that the United States didn’t release Odah, despite his clearance, because of his hunger strike.

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“Hardline elements within the U.S. Defense Department are convinced that hunger strikes … are functionally a method of warfare,” the source said, in the Guardian. “On that view, permitting [Odah’s] challenge to his detention to go unanswered would both represent a substantive defeat and would encourage intensification of hunger strikes.”

Odah’s attorney in mid-2015 filed a petition for habeas corpus in Washington, D.C., federal court seeking his client’s release from Gitmo on medical grounds, saying his hunger strike had weakened him to the point of near death.

But the U.S. Justice Department, on August 14, 2015, filed a letter to protest this release.

The Justice Department said then, PBS reported: “The U.S. government remains committed to promptly securing an appropriate location to which petitioner Ba Odah can be transferred. Such a transfer will be consistent with applicable U.S. law and policy and occur in a manner consistent with the administration’s commitment to reduce the detainee population at Guantánamo Bay and to ultimately close the detention facility in a responsible manner that protects national security.”

Obama has promised to close Gitmo before he departs the White House. Only 91 prisoners remain at the base, down from more than 700 years ago.

It’s not clear what countries these dozen due for release are going to be sent to, but in January, 10 at the base who hailed from Yemen were sent to Oman. Others winning their freedom over the years have been sent to Ghana, Bosnia and Montenegro. Obama’s administration said it wouldn’t send Yemenis back to their home country because of the potential for them to join forces with al-Qaida.


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