(NEW YORK) — A Guantanamo Bay detainee who spent nearly two decades at the notorious facility and thought he might not make it out alive spoke out after being released — the first prisoner freed by the Biden administration.
“I was born again on July 19. My birthday is no longer March 4. I was born yesterday on July 19,” Abdul Latif Nasser said in a statement shared with ABC News. “I have no words to describe my overwhelming sense of happiness and joy. It is like a miracle after 20 years to be home and celebrate Eid together with my family.”
On Tuesday, the legal charity Reprieve, which campaigned for his release and provided legal support, confirmed to ABC News that Nasser was reunited with his family in Morocco.
Nasser, whose case was profiled by ABC News in 2019, was first cleared for release from Guantanamo more than five years ago. He had been detained there for 19 years after he was captured in Afghanistan, alleged by the U.S. government to be an active member of the Taliban and then to have trained with al-Qaeda.
During his time at Guantanamo, he was never charged with a crime, and his lawyers stress that none of the U.S. government’s claims have been aired in a court of law. He was cleared for release in 2016 following a Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing, set up by the Obama administration in 2011, in order to speed up the process recommending individuals for transfer away from the facility.
The PRB consists of officials from six major agencies, and all members of the board must recommend that law of war detention is no longer justified.
However, after a series of bureaucratic missteps and a political reversal from the Trump administration, which declared that no more prisoners would be released, he remained imprisoned in the facility.
“I want to thank everyone, all the people who worked very hard and spared no efforts to make this possible,” said Nasser in the statement. His case was also the subject of a recent podcast series, ‘The Other Latif’ on New York Public Radio.
With Nasser’s release, the first from the facility since 2016, 39 detainees remain at Guantanamo, 10 of whom have been cleared for release. Seventeen of the remaining are eligible for review, 10 are part of the military commissions process and two detainees have been convicted for their crimes, officials said at a press briefing on Monday.
“On June 17th of this year, the Department of Defense notified Congress of its intent to repatriate Mr. Nasir to Morocco, and, in consultation with our Moroccan partners, we have undertaken a responsible transfer,” a senior administration official said. “The Biden administration remains dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing of the Guantanamo facility.”
The United States is grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility,” the senior administration official said.
In a statement from Nasser’s brother, Mustafa, his family said were delighted Nasser was home in time for the Islamic festival, Eid al-Adha.
“This is a dream for us as a family that came true at a very special moment,” he said in a statement. ” We want to thank everyone involved who made this miracle possible. Now we would just like some peace and some time to ourselves to help our brother begin his new life in Morocco.”
Advocacy groups celebrated Nasser’s release, but said that the Biden administration must do more to make good on the Obama-era promise to shut the facility down.
“Abdul Latif Nasser’s release is hugely encouraging, but he’s only one man among many who have suffered the same grave injustice of years of detention without trial, even after long since being cleared for release,” Reprieve deputy director Katie Taylor said in a statement. “There are 10 other men cleared for transfer who should be sent home without any further delay or resettled in countries where they can safely begin to rebuild their lives.”
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