WASHINGTON — The Defense Department today announced the first Guantanamo detainee transfer of the Trump administration, sending Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi back home to Saudi Arabia.
The transfer of al-Darbi, 43, had been part of a plea agreement but was in limbo for a few months as administration officials discussed the move.
Al-Darbi, a Saudi citizen, was arrested traveling through Azerbaijan in June 2002 and held for his knowledge of the USS Cole bombing and other al-Qaeda maritime attack plans. Four years ago, al-Darbi pleaded guilty to planning a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker. Under the Obama administration, he struck a deal to be released to a rehabilitation program this February.
“In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States’ intent to transfer this individual and of the secretary’s determination that this transfer met the statutory standard,” said the Pentagon in a statement. “…The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with established standards for security and humane treatment.”
During February hearing, it was revealed that al-Darbi — who began his stay at Gitmo as a feces-throwing belligerent inmate — had evolved into a cooperating witness with his own cottage-type accommodations including a kitchen stocked with halal meat and a Magic Bullet blender, a veggie garden, a laptop computer with Rosetta Stone to learn English, an exercise bike, Under Armour and Nike workout gear, Turkish coffee, and art supplies. He was also allowed to make phone calls to his wife and kids, enjoyed his own PlayStation 3, munched strawberry Oreos and binged on Netflix re-runs of “Arrested Development.”
Just before his State of the Union address in January, President Trump signed an order directing Defense Secretary James Mattis to review the nation’s military detention policies and keep Guantanamo open.
“I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down,” Trump said.
Mattis told reporters this week that he was currently “not working” on the mandated Guantanamo review and didn’t know if the prison facility would be used to house any of the more than 400 foreign fighters waging war for ISIS captured and held by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The release of al-Darbi leaves 40 detainees at Guantanamo. The last announced transfer was the day before Trump’s inauguration.