The Obama administration has decided to repatriate to Yemen a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he was ordered released by a federal judge who cited overwhelming evidence that the detainee had been held illegally for more than eight years by the United States, administration officials said.
In January, President Barack Obama suspended the transfer of any detainees to Yemen because of concerns about the security situation in that country. But the case of Mohammed Odaini, who was 17 when he was picked up in Pakistan in 2002, has forced the administration to partially lift its suspension.
Odaini was a student at a religious institution in Faisalabad, Pakistan, when he visited a nearby guesthouse for the first time. The house was raided that night, and Odaini has been in custody since.
U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. "emphatically" ordered Odaini's release after concluding there was no evidence he had any connection to al-Qaida. Odaini was recommended or approved for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay by various military or government officials in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009, according to Kennedy's judgment.
Administration officials stressed that Obama's ban on transfers to Yemen remains in place.
"The general suspension is still intact, but this is a court-ordered release," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the case. "People were comfortable with this ... because of the guy's background, his family and where he comes from in Yemen."
Odaini's father is a retired security officer, and one of his sisters appealed to Obama in a letter.
"I wish you could see the tears that easily come running from our eyes even in happy occasions when we are all gathered except our beloved brother Mohammed who is far away," wrote Samira Odaini.
Congress has been informed of the plans to send Odaini home, and a second official noted that in a letter in January, Republican Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did not object to court-ordered releases of Yemeni detainees.
"This should not be viewed as a reflection of a broader policy for other Yemeni detainees," said the second administration official.
David Remes, Odaini's attorney, declined to comment.
An interagency task force Obama created had cleared 29 Yemenis for transfer out of Guantanamo and conditionally cleared 30 more if security conditions in Yemen improve. The administration may come under further pressure to release Yemenis besides Odaini.
As many as 20 more Yemenis could be ordered released by the courts for lack of evidence to justify their continued detention, an administration official estimated.
About 90 Yemenis remain at Guantanamo, the largest single group by nationality.
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