Following through on a promise made just before the New Year, the U.S. Defense Department announced Friday the release of a detainee being held at Guantanamo Bay — a Kuwaiti national by the name of Fayiz Mohammed Ahmed Al-Kandari.
Kandari is being transferred to the Kuwaiti government’s control, the U.S. military said in a press release. His release comes after a September decision by a review board that found it “does not remain necessary (to detain him) to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security.”
This news leaves 104 detainees still at the U.S. military facility in Cuba, though more could soon be joining Kandari in leaving the country.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of Congress last month that 17 detainees would be sent to other countries sometime in January. If it happens, that would leave 90 detainees — 59 of which have been deemed ineligible to be sent elsewhere.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly pledged to try to shutter the detention camp known as Gitmo, which has become a recruiting tool for terrorists who portray it as a symbol of America’s disregard for human rights. Yet many Republicans have objected, including the prospect of transferring the 59 detainees (at least) to prisons inside the United States.
As to Kandari, legal transcripts indicate that he left Kuwait in late June 2001, spent two months in Pakistan, then headed to Afghanistan. The lawyer defending him, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, claims that local Afghan officials advised Kandari to leave after the September 11, 2001, attacks but instead he was captured by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance — along with many other Arabs — and “sold” to U.S. forces.
Kandari’s family claims he went to Afghanistan to do charitable work, including helping reconstruct two wells and repair a mosque, having made similar trips in 1997 to the same country and three years earlier to Bosnia.
But prosecutors didn’t buy this story.
Instead, they accused him of having “recruited personnel to participate in jihad in Afghanistan (and getting) weapons training at the Khaldan training camp.”
Osama bin Laden “personally provided religious instruction and [training]at this camp,” according to a September 2004 Combatant Status Review Board. That group characterized Kandari as a member of al Qaeda and said he was captured in fall 2001 in Tora Bora, a mountainous area of Afghanistan where bin Laden and many of his top fighters were then believed to be holding out.