Bin Laden aide released from Guantanamo, sent home to Sudan
One of the longest-held prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility has been released and sent home to Sudan after serving two years of a 14-year sentence for providing support to Al Qaeda's late founder, Osama bin Laden.
Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud Qosi, 52, had been held at the compound for suspected terrorists since early 2002, shortly after it was opened at the U.S. Navy base in southern Cuba. His release and transfer to his homeland on Tuesday fulfilled a plea deal at the time of his July 2010 conviction for providing assistance in the form of cooking, driving and bookkeeping to Al Qaeda's terrorist training center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Qosi's release spurred new calls by human rights organizations for President Obama to release or transfer the remaining 168 foreign men still held at Guantanamo and to close the prison and military tribunal that have brought international condemnation of the U.S. practice of indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without charges or trials.
With the release of Qosi, one of only seven to be tried among nearly 800 detainees brought to Guantanamo over the last decade, the Obama administration "has no justification" for continuing to hold dozens of men who have never been charged with any crime and aren't considered dangerous, said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
"As Obama embarks on his second presidential campaign, he should uphold the promises on which he was elected the first time, including closing Guantanamo and ending this shameful chapter in U.S. history," Azmy insisted.
The Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday that Qosi's release was in accordance with a pretrial accord in which the government agreed to suspend all but two years of his sentence in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors.
Qosi's departure means only four convicted prisoners remain at Guantanamo, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale. Only one of the convicts, Pakistani-born Majid Khan, is a "high-value detainee" accused of having a role in the Sept. 11 attacks or other major terrorist crimes.
Two of the three prisoners in the convicts' block of the maximum-security Camp 5 prison could also be released in the near future: Omar Khadr of Canada is already eligible for transfer to his homeland once the Ottawa government agrees to accept him, and Noor Uthman Mohammed of Sudan may be released as soon as next year, once he has provided testimony in other pending trials, as agreed in his plea deal. The third convict at Camp 5 is Ali Hamza Bahlul of Yemen, an Al Qaeda propagandist serving a life sentence.
Khan was a legal U.S. resident in the Baltimore area at the time of his arrest in 2003 during a family visit to Pakistan. Initially detained and interrogated at a CIA "black site," Khan was accused of plotting with Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to blow up U.S. apartment blocks and businesses. The terms of his plea bargain remain confidential, and his sentencing has been put off for four years, during which he is expected to provide testimony against other major terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.
Two other Guantanamo convicts, Salim Hamdan of Yemen and David Hicks of Australia, have served their time and gone home.
Obama had pledged to close Guantanamo within a year of his January 2009 inauguration but was thwarted by opponents in Congress who passed legislation prohibiting transfer of terrorism suspects to U.S. soil. His administration conducted a review of the remaining prisoners in 2009 and concluded that cases could be brought against some but that there was insufficient evidence to charge 46 of those considered too potentially dangerous to release.
Efforts to repatriate the majority who will neither be charged nor indefinitely held have stalled amid the political gridlock in Washington and refusal by some home countries to take back their suspect citizens.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud Qosi, who was released Tuesday from the Guantanamo Bay detention center after more than 10 years in custody, speaks at a news conference in Khartoum on Wednesday after his return to his native Sudan. Credit: Ebrahim Hamid / AFP/Getty Images