Long-Term Hunger Striker in Bid for Freedom from Guantanamo

Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay

MIAMI  — A Saudi prisoner at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who has been on a nine-year hunger strike would participate in a rehabilitation program for militants and settle down to a peaceful life if allowed to go home, his lawyer told a government review panel Tuesday.

Abdul Rahman Shalabi is also open to being resettled in another country if that would speed his release from Guantanamo, attorney Julia T. M. Wood said to members of the Periodic Review Board.

"Wherever Mr. Shalabi goes, he wishes to settle down, get married and have a family of his own and put the past behind him," Wood said to the board, which was established by President Barack Obama to evaluate prisoners and recommend whether they can be released as part of the effort to close the detention center.

Shalabi, now 39, was among the first prisoners brought to the base, in January 2002. The U.S. government says he was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and associated with the external operations chief for al-Qaida, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is facing trial by military commission at Guantanamo.

He began a hunger strike in 2005 and along with another prisoner, since released, maintained the protest longer than any others held at the base. Court records show Shalabi occasionally consumed food but also dropped to as little as 101 pounds (46 kilograms). Wood said he has been undergone tube feedings "on a daily basis" for nine years.

A dossier released by the Pentagon says he "probably continues to sympathize with extremists, but he has not expressed intent to re-engage in terrorism and does not appear to be in contact with any extremists outside of Guantanamo." His nephew was released in November 2007 and went through the Saudi government rehabilitation program.

Shalabi testified Tuesday by video link from Guantanamo to review board members in the U.S. The hearing was closed except for prepared statements by his lawyer and a representative appointed by the military. No decision was announced.

The U.S. holds 122 men at Guantanamo, including 57 cleared for release. A base spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, said a "very small percentage" of the prisoners are on hunger strike but the military no longer provides the specific number.

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