Guantanamo prisoner from Mauritania back home after 13 years

AP News
Posted: Oct 29, 2015 6:26 PM

MIAMI (AP) — Another prisoner has been released from the detention center on the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Ahmed Abdel Aziz was sent back to his native Mauritania after 13 years in custody at Guantanamo. He is the 14th prisoner released this year amid a continuing standoff between President Barack Obama and Congress over Obama's attempt to close the detention center.

Aziz was initially detained as a suspected member of al-Qaida with ties to some of the most senior members of the terrorist organization. He was captured by Pakistani authorities at a suspected al-Qaida safe house and turned over to the U.S. He was never charged with a crime.

His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of the human rights group Reprieve, said the release was long overdue and the U.S. owes an apology to the 45-year-old Aziz. The former prisoner has a wife and son in Mauritania and immediately reunited with them upon arrival in the North African country. Aziz plans to work at a newspaper owned by his brother-in-law, the lawyer said.

"While it's great that Ahmed is home with his family, it's 14 years late, and long after he was cleared," Smith said. "His release was only delayed because he, an innocent man, routinely protested his mistreatment. "

The Pentagon said in a statement that Aziz's release came after a "comprehensive review of his case" and after Defense Secretary Ash Carter ensured it was in compliance with standards set by Congress. "The United States is grateful to the government of Mauritania for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," it said.

There are now 113 prisoners at Guantanamo, including 53 who have been cleared for release or transfer.

Congress has thwarted the Obama administration's effort to close the prison with a ban on transferring prisoners to the U.S. and restrictions on sending them abroad. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president remains committed to closing the prison.

Earnest did not rule out the president eventually issuing an executive order to hasten the prison's closure, saying Obab has made clear his willingness to use his executive authorities to make progress on key priorities, and "this would certainly be one of his priorities."