Long-term hunger striker aims to exit Guan­tanamo


A Saudi prisoner at the U.S. base at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, who has been on a nine-year hunger strike, would par­tic­i­pate in a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram for mil­i­tants and set­tle down to a peace­ful life if al­lowed to go home, his lawyer told a gov­ern­ment re­view panel Tues­day.

Ab­dul Rah­man Sha­l­abi is also open to be­ing re­set­tled in an­other coun­try if that would speed his re­lease from Guan­tanamo, at­tor­ney Ju­lia T. M. Wood said to mem­bers of the Pe­ri­odic Re­view Board.

“Wher­ever Mr. Sha­l­abi goes, he wishes to set­tle down, get mar­ried and have a fam­ily of his own and put the past be­hind him,” Wood said to the board, which was es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to eval­u­ate pris­on­ers and rec­om­mend whether they can be re­leased as part of the ef­fort to close the detention cen­ter.

Sha­l­abi, now 39, was among the first pris­on­ers brought to the base, in Jan­uary 2002. The U.S. gov­ern­ment says he was a body­guard for Osama bin Laden and has links to the ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tions chief for alQaida, Khalid Sheikh Mo­hammed, who is fac­ing trial by mil­i­tary com­mis­sion at Guan­tanamo.

Sha­l­abi be­gan a hunger strike in 2005. Along with an­other prisoner, since re­leased, he main­tained the protest longer than any oth­ers held at the base. Court records show Sha­l­abi oc­ca­sion­ally con­sumed food but also dropped to as lit­tle as 101 pounds (46 kilo­grams). Wood said he has un­der­gone tube feed­ings “on a daily ba­sis” for nine years.

A dossier re­leased by the U.S. De­fense Depart­ment says he “prob­a­bly con­tin­ues to sym­pa­thize with ex­trem­ists, but he has not ex­pressed in­tent to re-en­gage in ter­ror­ism.” His nephew was re­leased in Novem­ber 2007 and went through the Saudi gov­ern­ment re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram.

Sha­l­abi tes­ti­fied Tues­day by video link from Guan­tanamo to re­view board mem­bers in the U.S. The hear­ing was closed ex­cept for pre­pared state­ments by his lawyer and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive ap­pointed by the mil­i­tary. No de­ci­sion was an­nounced.

The U.S. holds 122 men at Guan­tanamo, in­clud­ing 57 cleared for re­lease. A base spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gres­back, said a “very small per­cent­age” of the pris­on­ers are on hunger strike but the mil­i­tary no longer pro­vides the spe­cific num­ber.

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