A Kuwaiti aircraft lifted off from this remote Navy base with a long-held captive before dawn Wednesday, sealing the first repatriation of a former so-called “forever prisoner” whose dangerousness was downgraded by a U.S. government parole board.
Fawzi al Odah, 37, was held for nearly 13 years at Guantánamo, starting off in the crude outdoor prison of barbed wire and chain-link fences called Camp X-Ray. He was never charged with a crime.
His release was the first since President Barack Obama’s controversial May 31 transfer of five Afghan Taliban prisoners to the custody of Qatar in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a war prisoner of a Taliban affiliate.
It also came within a day of midterm elections that were roiled by debate over Obama’s Guantánamo closure ambitions. In Kansas, for example, incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts campaigned on a pledge to prevent relocation of Guantánamo detainees to the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth. He won as the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in eight years.
The transfer left 148 detainees at Guantánamo — 79 of them, like Odah, approved for release with security assurances. A U.S. Defense Department official predicted that as many as a dozen of them could be released in coming months.
“Fawzi bears no ill will against the United States despite his long incarceration,” said his attorney Eric Lewis. “He wants to get on with his life.”
Odah, though never charged, was among the more high-profile prisoners because his name appeared on Supreme Court cases and his father was dogged in campaigning for his release.