A Justice Department task force has approved the transfer of a Yemeni doctor who has been held captive at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility for nearly seven years.
Ayman Saeed Batarfi, who was sent to Guantanamo in the spring of 2002, is the second prisoner to be cleared by the task force, which is reviewing the case files of the roughly 240 men still held there. Binyam Mohamed, the first, was transferred to the United Kingdom in late February. (His case has generated considerable controversy. Last week, two British High Court judges revealed that U.S. military prosecutors pressured Mohamed to plead guilty to unspecified charges and to sign a statement saying that he hadn't been tortured and wouldn't sue the U.S. government or its allies over his treatment in captivity.)
In a joint motion filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department and Batarfi’s lawyers asked a federal judge to stay his habeas case while the government searches for a “destination country in a manner that is consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”
One of Batarfi’s lawyers, William Murphy of Baltimore’s Murphy & Shaffer, cautioned that the task force’s finding did not mean Batarfi would be immediately released upon resettlement, but he said, “We are pleased by the result of the review.”
The motion stipulates that Batarfi may reopen his case if he is “not promptly repatriated to an acceptable country” or if he is transferred to a country that would impose “unacceptable conditions.” Murphy, who has been representing Batarfi since 2005, said he learned of his client’s fate on Friday.
Yemenis represent the largest bloc of detainees held at Guantanamo, but the United States has been reluctant to repatriate them, out of concern that their native country lacks a sound rehabilitation system. President Barack Obama has pledged to close the prison facility at Guantanamo within a year, and pressure is building to find homes for more than 60 detainees who have been cleared for release. Obama has tasked Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. with leading the detainee review.
Murphy said his client is now beholden to "a primarily diplomatic effort." The government accused him of assisting al-Qaeda, but Batarfi’s lawyers say he was on a humanitarian aid mission when Afghan forces scooped him up in 2001 and turned him over to the United States.