A former Yemeni bodyguard of slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, under detention at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba for more than a decade, has been cleared for release by a US government review panel.
Mahmud Mujahid, 33, who allegedly underwent militant training at a secret camp in Afghanistan, is no longer a “significant threat” to the US and is eligible for transfer from the prison at some point, the board decided.
The decision by the board was the first in a series of review hearings that the Obama administration is holding to speed up the eventual closure of the US military prison for terrorist detainees, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
He has been a captive at Guantanamo since his arrest near Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains when US troops were closing in on a Bin Laden hideout not long after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Mujahid had been accused of being an al-Qaeda fighter and bodyguard to Bin Laden Bin Laden was killed in a covert US raid in May, 2011, in Pakistan’s garrison city Abbottabad.
At one time, he was considered a “high risk” al-Qaeda fighter and “a committed jihadist”. The review board hearing for Mujahid was conducted behind closed doors under a 2011 directive by President Barack Obama to facilitate releases at Guantanamo. The Pentagon held it in secret to test how the process would work.
Of the 155 detainees at Guantanamo, 77 are cleared for release and 70 are likely to undergo review hearings this year.
“This is just the first of many reviews that must take place in order to finally close Guantanamo,” Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First, an advocate for detainees, was quoted as saying by the daily.
Obama has promised to shut the prison, but his efforts have been hampered by some in Congress and by difficulties in finding foreign nations willing to accept the detainees.
In changing Mujahid’s status, the Pentagon said “by consensus” the review members found that continuing to hold him indefinitely was no longer needed “to protect against a continuing significant threat to the US”.
Mujahid is now eligible for transfer to the country which will accept him, subject to appropriate security measures and assurances of humane treatment.
According to Pentagon records assessing Mujahid in 2008, he was captured with a group of al-Qaeda fighters known as the “Dirty 30” on December 15, 2001, by Pakistani forces as the group attempted to cross the border from Afghanistan.