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Gitmo Board Clears For Release Prisoner Who Still Poses Threat

President Barack Obama’s multi-agency Periodic Review Board (PRB) has approved an al Qaeda-linked Algerian prisoner for release from the U.S. military detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, conceding that the jihadist “presents some level of threat.”

However, PRB claims that the threat posed by the 43-year-old, Sufiyan Barhoumi, can be “adequately mitigated,” in part due to “his lack of extremist views.”

At one point, the Pentagon deemed the prisoner to be “high risk,” linked to key al Qaeda leadership, and accused him of participating in “hostilities against the US and coalition forces.”

Barhoumi was identified by the Pentagon as an explosive’s expert and Al-Qaeda trainer.

He has been held at Guantánamo since mid June 2002 and on Tuesday became the second detainee to be approved for release by the Gitmo board after presenting a letter of support from a former guard, notes the Miami Herald.

In a statement announcing its latest decision, Obama’s parole board notes:

The Board recommends repatriation to Algeria due to the detainees strong family support and Algeria’s strong record in prior transfers, with security appropriate security assurances as negotiated by the Special Envoys and agreed by relevant USG [US government] departments and agencies.

Algeria has been listed by the U.S. government as a terrorism-linked country.

Barhoumi presented PRB with a detailed plan to ope a pizza shop near his mom in the Algerian capital of Algiers, reports the Miami Herald.

Obama’s Gitmo board explains:

The Board recognizes that the detainee presents some level of threat in light of his past activities, skills, and associations; however, the Board found that in light of the factors and the condition identified below, the risk the detainee presents can be adequately mitigated.

In making this determination, the Board considered the detainee’s candor with the Board, his acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility for his past activities, and his lack of extremist views. The Board also noted the detainee’s detailed plan for the future and extensive family outside support as detailed by his private counsel, the detainee’s record of compliance while at Guantanamo and history of positive engagement with the guard force, and the detainees effort to improve himself while in detention by taking advantage of educational classes.

The prisoner was painted as a well-behaved prisoner and even presented a letter of support from a former guard that appears to have swayed the parole board.

However, the Pentagon reported in June 2004:

Detainee’s overall behavior has been non-compliant and aggressive with several failures to comply and harassments of the guard force…The detainee has demonstrated a commitment to jihad, has links to key al-Qaida leadership, has participated in terrorist training and has trained others in the use of explosives for terror effect and destruction. The detainee has participated in hostilities against the US and coalition forces, and maintains the capability to do so. It has been determined the detainee poses a high risk, as he poses a continuing threat to the US, its interests and allies.

Besides being linked to upper echelons of core al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, he has also been affiliated to the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which has been officially designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

GSPC became the Algeria-based al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

He was apprehended in Pakistan by the country’s security forces at the end of March 2002 and transferred to Guantánamo in June of that year.

Tuesday’s decision by the parole board brings the total number of detainees approved for release to 35. That amounts to about half of the overall 76 prisoners held at the facility.

Among the other 41, are 17 “forever prisoners,” 10 charged with war crimes, and 14 who are awaiting for a verdict “on their dangerousness,” acknowledges the Miami Herald.

The newspaper notes:

[Barhoumi’s] military defense attorney, Air Force Maj. Justin Swick, noted Thursday that the U.S. government had 14 years to put him on trial but ‘could never think of anything to charge.’

‘It’s time for the charade to end. Mr. Barhoumi comes from a normal, middle-class family willing to support him and a safe, stable country willing to accept him,’ the major said. ‘There are plenty of detainees in Guantánamo the American people need to worry about. Mr. Barhoumi is not one of them.’

The recent PRB move brings Obama closer to emptying out the detention center. He has pledged to shut down Gitmo.

“President Obama has just over five months to empty the prison. His legacy depends on swift action,” declared Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Barhoumi’s attorney.

Obama reportedly plans to bring down the Gitmo prison population to 56 by the end of the summer.

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