Stranded at Guantánamo, a Cooperative Detainee Criticizes Saudi Arabia

Last fall, Mr. Darbi was sentenced to 13 years in prison. In a document jointly prepared by prosecutors and the defense, the government agreed that he had fulfilled his end of the deal, including providing testimony against two other detainees that was “unprecedented in similar counterterrorism prosecutions to date.”

But on the date by which he was to have left — Feb. 20 — the Pentagon announced that he would remain at Guantánamo for the time being. In a statement at the time, Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the United States government was still waiting for the Saudi government to provide assurances permitting the departure to move forward, but hoped that would happen soon.

When he learned he would not be going home on Feb. 20, Mr. Darbi said: “I felt like I got hit by a truck. I felt destroyed, physically and morally.” And, referring to his detainee number, he added, “Instead of being called by my first or last name in my own country, I’m still being called ’768,’ still here in this place.”

The unexpected limbo in which Mr. Darbi finds himself may have larger consequences for the military commissions system. His fate could encourage — or discourage — other detainees who may consider cooperating and serving as witnesses in exchange for a deal to eventually leave Guantánamo.

On Wednesday, Commander Higgins said that nothing had changed since Feb. 20 and that the United States was still awaiting word from the Saudis.

Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who has been Mr. Darbi’s lead defense counsel since 2008, appealed to Saudi officials to focus on his client.

“I understand that senior Saudi officials are preoccupied with other matters,” he said. “It’s still disappointing to read statements by U.S. spokespeople indicating that the cause of delay is the Saudi government. This arrangement has been a long time coming. We expected smooth and timely implementation and hope that both countries are working hard to fulfill the agreement soon.”

At the time of Mr. Darbi’s plea deal, Saudi Arabia and the United States exchanged diplomatic notes agreeing to the transfer. Under those terms, the process was to begin with him submitting a request to prosecutors, which the United States would then send through diplomatic channels to the kingdom.

If Saudi Arabia concurred, the notes said, the kingdom would inform the United States “and initiate procedures” to carry out the transfer at Saudi expense. Or, if it did not concur, the kingdom would “promptly” say so.

Mr. Kassem said Mr. Darbi submitted his transfer request to commissions prosecutors in August. The lawyer also suggested that there was little left to negotiate in terms of the specifics of diplomatic assurances.

“The diplomatic notes that the United States and Saudi Arabia exchanged in 2014 reflect the full framework we negotiated for Mr. Darbi’s transfer to Saudi custody,” he said. “Any additional terms or assurances deemed applicable should be familiar from the many repatriations of Saudis from Guantánamo.”

It remains unclear how long it took for the Pentagon to pass Mr. Darbi’s request to the State Department, and when the United States Embassy in Riyadh in turn presented it to the Saudi government.

A State Department spokeswoman declined to discuss the matter beyond expressing its support for the Pentagon in trying to carry out the transfer under the plea deal, saying the government would not “detail private, diplomatic conversations.”

Continue reading the main story https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/us/politics/guantanamo-detainee-saudi-arabia.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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