After Six Years, 74-pound Hunger Striker Finally Leaves Guantanamo

On Saturday, nine Yemeni detainees were transferred from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Many had been there since the prison opened in 2002, and eight had been cleared for release since 2009.

The nine detainees were transferred to Saudi Arabia, which has one of the most successful “rehabilitation” programs for terrorists.

One of them is Tariq Ba Odah. You may recognize that name. Ba Odah has been waging a hunger strike since January 7, 2007. At one point last year, he weighed an alarming 74 pounds.

According to government documents, Ba Odah was captured by the Pakistani military in 2001. After six weeks in their custody, he was transferred to American forces in Pakistan and on February 9, 2002, Ba Odah was sent to Guantanamo Bay. In January 2007, JTF-GTMO assessed Ba Odah to be an Islamic extremist and possibly a member of al Qaeda who had fought for Osama bin Laden. The 2010 report of the Guantanamo Review Task Force found these assertions to be untrue.

After eight years at Guantanamo, he was cleared for transfer in January 2009 by the six main national defense and intelligence agencies. However, since Ba Odah is originally from Yemen, where the security situation has been unstable for quite some time, it was not possible to repatriate him. The U.S. government had presumably been working on finding a third country to transfer him to for the last six years, as his health continued to seriously deteriorate.

Regardless of whether or not Ba Odah’s initial detention was lawful, it absolutely never should have gotten to this point. For the last six years, a man has been held in prison in spite of the fact that six government agencies unanimously agreed that he no longer posed a threat to the United States. To protest this injustice, Ba Odah used one of the only means at his disposal: refusing to eat. His health has deteriorated to such a degree that it’s unclear how long he will be able to appreciate his long-awaited release.

Situations like Ba Odah’s are unacceptable. Though the recent rate of transfers of cleared detainees has increased significantly, it has already taken much too long. The Obama Administration needs to transfer the remaining cleared detainees as quickly as possible so that individuals don’t feel the need to resort to extreme measures like near decade-long hunger strikes.

Today, 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Of those, 26 have been unanimously cleared for transfer. In the president’s recently released plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, the goal is to transfer all cleared detainees by the end of this summer.

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Published on April 18, 2016

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