ARLINGTON, Va. – As controversy grows over the release of five hardened Taliban detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Obama administration is considering springing yet another prisoner from Guantanamo Bay.
Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al-Awda appeared via a video feed before a review board Wednesday morning in northern Virginia, often smiling as his private counsel Eric Lewis made the case for his release.
Al-Awda has been held prisoner for 12 years. According to Defense Department officials and his official Guantanamo detainee profile, he traveled from his home in Kuwait to Afghanistan just before the 9/11 attacks to train in terrorist camps, and "possibly" fight alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Al-Awda maintains he only went to Afghanistan for "humanitarian reasons to provide alms for the poor and to teach the Koran."
The deliberations follow the administration's controversial decision to free five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl over the weekend. Lawmakers say the former prisoners are high-risk and were among the most sought-after detainees by Taliban leadership. There are now 149 detainees left at Guantanamo, which President Obama has struggled to close since taking office in 2009.
Al-Awda's attorney, though, argued his client poses "no continuing significant security threat to the United States." He said his client, if released, would be sent back to Kuwait and immediately put into a rehab facility for at least one year -- though he could be allowed to leave during daytime hours in as early as six months.
If he is released from that facility, al-Awda would still be subject to extensive security monitoring. His Internet activity would be monitored, he'd have to check in with police at least once a week and he'd be banned from traveling outside Kuwait.
During his decade-plus in captivity, al-Awda has not been a passive prisoner. His personal representatives concede he's been hostile, throwing "food and other items," and participating in hunger strikes. But they also say he has become much calmer in recent years, adding the initial adjustment to prison life "has not been easy."
Al-Awda's immediate goals were described as getting married, starting a family and working for his father, who was a colonel in the Kuwaiti Air Force and fought alongside U.S. forces during the Persian Gulf War. He now owns a plumbing supply business.
While the Kuwaiti foreign minister, interior minister and director of counter terrorism all provided statements supporting al-Awda's release, it is not a done deal.
Pentagon officials argue if he were to engage in extremism, it would likely be through other detainees who already have been released.
The periodic review board overseeing the case now has 30 days to make a decision. If it decides al-Awda should not be transferred, he'll appear before another review board in December.