Yesterday, U.S. officials indicated that Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed al-Darbi’s repatriation to his native Saudi Arabia to serve the remainder of his sentence would be delayed past the Feb. 20 deadline set forth in his 2014 plea agreement. The full statement by the spokesperson for the Office of Military Commissions, provided in response to an inquiry by the Miami Herald, reads as follows:
Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed Haza al Darbi’s transfer from Guantanamo detention to Saudi Arabia will not take place today.
Al Darbi’s plea agreement stipulated his transfer would occur after serving four years in U.S. custody. Today marks four years since he signed the agreement. We await assurances from the Saudi Arabian government to move forward on his departure.
Al Darbi will remain at Guantanamo until all transfer details are concluded. Thus far, al Darbi has complied with all terms of his plea agreement. [The Department of Defense] hopes the transfer will take place soon.
The nature of the assurances that U.S. officials are seeking from Saudi Arabia, which has previously accepted other Guantanamo Bay detainees, is unclear.
Some observers have queried whether the Trump administration will move forward with al-Darbi’s repatriation—which was negotiated during the Obama administration—given President Trump’s statements supporting use of the Guantanamo Bay facility and opposing prior transfers. Al-Darbi’s attorney, law professor Ramzi Kassem, stated that he believes the U.S. government is still working to complete the transfer and has a strong incentive to do so, as failing to honor al-Darbi’s plea agreement could discourage other detainees from cooperating with the military commissions. If the transfer does not take place, al-Darbi could pursue additional litigation in an attempt to enforce the terms of his plea agreement.
A deserter from the Saudi military who joined al-Qaeda in 1997 and has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, al-Darbi pleaded guilty to charges relating to the 2002 attack on the French oil tanker MV Limburg. A U.S. military jury officially sentenced him to 13 years confinement on Oct. 13, 2017. As part of his plea agreement, al-Darbi agreed to provide testimony against other detainees. Earlier this year, he was deposed as part of the military commission for Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another accused al-Qaeda member. Defense attorneys questioned al-Darbi on his brutal treatment by U.S. officials following his capture, and the special benefits he has received since his plea agreement. Al-Darbi was also deposed in the military commission of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a participant in the attack on the USS Cole. Al-Nashiri’s defense team, however, has refused to cross-examine al-Darbi due to the resignation of its civilian members and consequent absence of death penalty learned counsel. Notably, the prosecution in that case accused al-Nashiri’s defense team of staging their resignations in an attempt to delay cross-examination until after al-Darbi’s scheduled repatriation, thereby limiting his usefulness as a prosecution witness.
If al-Darbi is released, the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be reduced to 40.