Obama to Release Ex-Fighter from Bin Laden’s  55th Arab Brigade From Gitmo

bin Laden
The entrance to Camp 5 and Camp 6 at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay detention center / AP
March 31, 2016

The Pentagon plans to transfer roughly a dozen detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison to other nations, including an Islamic extremist who fought in Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade.

U.S. officials confirmed to the Washington Post Wednesday that Tarik Ba Odah, a Yemeni who has been on a hunger strike for more than nine years, would be among those resettled within the next few weeks in at least two cooperating countries.

The military has force-fed 37-year-old Ba Odah through a nasal tube since he began his fast in 2007, Reuters reported. In December, his body weight had dropped by half, falling from 148 pounds to 75.

The U.S. Department of Defense file for the detainee, published by the New York Times, provides insight into his ties to Osama bin Laden.

"[Ba Odah] is assessed to be an Islamic extremist and possible member of al-Qaida. Detainee served as a fighter in Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade, and participated in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces in [bin Laden’s] Tora Bora Mountain complex where he probably manned a mortar position. Detainee is reported as being an important man with close ties to senior al-Quaida members including [bin Laden]," the file reads.

Ba Odah also confirmed to U.S. officials that he received militant training and advanced artillery training from al Qaeda, according to the report.

When officials assessed Ba Odah in 2008 for continued detention, the Department of Defense classified him as a high risk threat to the U.S. and its allies.

He was also classified as a high-risk threat from a detention perspective for his noncompliance and hostility toward Guantanamo guards. As of January 2008, he had received 81 reports of disciplinary infraction. Incidents included Ba Odah spraying a mix of feces, urine, and water out of his cell and spitting on a guard, according to the file.

In 2009, Ba Odah was clear for transfer under certain security conditions, but Congress has since banned repatriations to Yemen.

The officials declined to identify the countries that agreed to resettle the prisoners.

Guantanamo currently holds 91 detainees. Thirty-seven prisoners have been approved for repatriation or resettlement.

President Obama vowed to close the military prison after taking office in 2009 and has since transferred, resettled, or repatriated 147 detainees. Obama’s plan to close the prison, which he recently delivered to Congress, would involve moving dozens of prisoners not approved for transfer to other countries to the United States.

Current law bars the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to detention facilities inside the U.S., but Obama has threatened to circumvent the congressional ban through executive action.