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Guantanamo Bay prisoner released to Saudi Arabia after 20 years

The war court headquarters at Camp Justice, as seen through a broken window at an obsolete air hangar at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on February 28, 2015, in an image approved for release by the U.S. military. (Carol Rosenberg/Miami Herald/TNS)
March 10, 2023

A suspected terrorist and Saudi national held at Guantanamo Bay for more than 20 years without a trial has been repatriated to Saudi Arabia following other releases from the military prison last month.

Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi, 48, was repatriated after a periodic review determined his detention was no longer necessary to protect national security, according to a Pentagon statement. 

Al-Sharbi was captured in Pakistan in 2002, accused of receiving al-Qaeda bomb training, and was also of interest for attending a U.S. flight school with two 9/11 hijackers, according to a government document.

READ MORE: Biden’s transfers alone won’t close Guantanamo Bay

The U.S. charged him with “providing material support for terrorism,” but the case was dropped after higher courts ruled that charge was not a recognized international war crime at the time of his actions, the New York Times reported

Since then, al-Sharbi has been detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. With his repatriation, he is expected to ultimately be lodged in Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation center for Islamic extremists, the New York Times reported.

Al-Sharbi’s transfer was authorized in September following months of diplomatic efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration, the Times reported. U.S. officials have declined to explain the months-long delay in completing the transfer.

Al-Sharbi’s repatriation from Guantanamo is the fourth this year, following the Feb. 2 transfer of Majid Khan to Belize, as well as the transfer of two Pakistani brothers back to their home country.

There are now 31 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay, according to the Pentagon. Seventeen are eligible for transfer, three are up for periodic review, nine are facing trial in military commissions, and two have been convicted.

The Pentagon stated that the U.S. is working toward “responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility.”