MIAMI – A prisoner who has been on a nine-year hunger strike to protest his confinement at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can now return to his native Saudi Arabia, a government review board said Friday.
The Periodic Review Board, which has been re-evaluating dozens of Guantanamo prisoners previously deemed too dangerous to release, said in a statement published on its website that Abdul Rahman Shalabi can be released to take part in a Saudi government rehabilitation program for militants and would be subject to monitoring afterward.
Shalabi, 39, was among the first prisoners taken to Guantanamo in January 2002. He was never charged with a crime but the government said he had been a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and had links to the external operations chief for al-Qaida, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is facing trial by military commission at Guantanamo.
The board, which was created by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2011 as part of the effort to close the prison at Guantanamo, did not clear Shalabi of wrongdoing and said it "acknowledges the detainee's past terrorist-related activities."
Shalabi began a hunger strike in 2005. He and another prisoner, who since has been released, maintained the protest longer than any others held at the base. Court records show Shalabi occasionally consumed food but also dropped to as little as 101 pounds (46 kilograms). His lawyer told the review board in April that prison officials had fed him with a nasogastric tube daily for nine years.
The U.S. now holds 116 men at Guantanamo, including 52 cleared for transfer or release.