U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is reportedly pushing ahead with the first repatriation of an accused Saudi jihadist held at the American military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The revelation, found in an exclusive report from Reuters, suggests the population at the Guantánamo prison, known as Gitmo, would be reduced from 41 to 40 despite Trump’s campaign pledge to “to load it up with some bad dudes.”
Early this year, President Trump signed an executive order to keep the prison open, suggesting at his State of the Union address to Congress that the facility could house newly captured Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) or al Qaeda jihadists.
Reuters identified the soon-to-be-released Gitmo prisoner as 43-year-old Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi, who admitted to playing a role in the 2002 attack against a French-flagged oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.
“Mr. Darbi’s transfer to Saudi custody would send a qualified message of hope to other prisoners that leaving Guantanamo is possible,” Ramzi Kassem, al-Darbi’s lead defense counsel since 2008, told Reuters.
Reuters learned of the upcoming release from the U.S. military adding:
The transfer of 43-year-old Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi appeared to have stalled in February, when he became eligible but was not repatriated, as allowed under the terms of al-Darbi’s 2014 plea bargain agreement.
The U.S. military said at the time it was waiting for assurances from Saudi Arabia’s government to move forward on his departure.
However, Reuters learned from the Pentagon on Monday that the process is moving along.
Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the news agency, “The transfer process is moving forward.”
In December, the White House National Security Council (NSC) revealed that it would make decisions on whether to release prisoners still held at Gitmo, “on a case-by-case basis.”
However, Tara Rigler, an NSC spokeswoman, acknowledged that Gitmo, will “remain an available option in the war on terrorism.”
“U.S. officials have not ruled out again adding to the prisoner population and have acknowledged trouble repatriating Islamic State fighters being held by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, raising the possibility that Guantanamo Bay could be seen as a viable option in the future,” notes Reuters.
Gitmo still houses 41 detainees, including 26 who have been deemed “forever prisoners,” or too dangerous to release.
Nevertheless, the Associated Press (AP) has noted that “forever prisoners” may “potentially be reviewed and added to the cleared list.”
The news of the potential release of the Saudi prisoner comes as President Trump met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), known for implementing wide-ranging reforms in the conservative Sunni kingdom.
Saudi Arabia sends many of the accused and convicted jihadists repatriated from Gitmo to Saudi Arabia to the Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) Counseling and Care Center.
The terrorist rehab center reportedly provides a life of luxury where recovering terrorists enjoy the comforts of an indoor swimming pool, sun-splashed patios, large-screen televisions, king size beds, conjugal visits, and lavish gym facilities, all courtesy of Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization center.
“Our focus is on correcting their thoughts, their misconceptions, their deviation from Islam,” Yahya Abu Maghayed, a director at the facility, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency during “a golf cart tour of the sprawling, palm tree-lined complex.”
“We make the ‘beneficiaries’ feel they are normal people and still have a chance—a chance to return to society,” added Abu Maghayed, noting that the center avoids calling them prisoners or inmates.
Abu Maghayed boasts that “86 percent” of the center’s 3,300 graduates have successfully returned to civilian life.
Al-Darbi, the Saudi who will likely be the first Gitmo prisoner released under Trump, became eligible for freedom under the terms of a plea bargain agreement reached under former President Barack Obama.
Under the deal, “he admitted to his role in a 2002 attack of against a French-flagged oil tanker off the coast of Yemen and agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities. He has been held at Guantanamo Bay for 15 years.”