‘Bin Laden bodyguard' in Gitmo since day 1 released to Montenegro

An ankle shackle used by prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. © Bob Strong
A Yemeni man accused of being a bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden was released after spending more than 14 years in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Fewer than 80 prisoners remain in the camp, with 29 eligible for release.

Abdel Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, now 37, was brought to Camp X-Ray on the day the prison facility opened in 2002. He was one of the 20 men photographed on his knees in a cage.

Only four of those ‘Day 1 detainees’ remain at the notorious camp, administered by the US military’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

Al-Rahabi’s departure means that 79 detainees remain in Guantanamo, 29 of whom have been approved for release. At its peak, the camp held about 680 prisoners. There were 242 when President Barack Obama took office in 2008, promising to close the facility within a year.

With Congress explicitly denying the funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to US soil, Obama has not been able to fulfill that promise. Earlier this month, the White House said it would not pursue executive action to close the camp down, citing the upcoming elections.

Though he was detained on suspicion of belonging to a group of “bodyguards” to Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, al-Rahabi was never charged with any crime. His release was authorized by the federal Periodic Review Board in 2014, but the US refused to send him back to Yemen, citing the concerns over terrorism and the ongoing conflict in that country.

Instead, al-Rahabi was sent to Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic that declared independence in 2006 and was recently invited to join NATO. He is the second Yemeni national from Guantanamo to end up there, after the release of Abdulaziz al Swidi in January.

“He’s been waiting for 14 years to reunite with his wife and the daughter he’s never met,” Rahabi’s attorney, David Remes, told the Miami Herald. “We are glad he’s been released at last.”

There was no word as to whether or when al-Rahabi’s wife and daughter – now a teenager – might join him in Montenegro, Remes added.

Al-Rahabi was one of the most determined prisoners involved in the 2013 hunger strike, and the Navy medical personnel kept him on a force-feeding list, the Herald reported.