The Pentagon Thursday sent home from Guantánamo an Algerian captive who feared repatriation, even as the White House grapples with new congressional restrictions on releases from the prison camps in southeast Cuba.
The release of Saed Farhi, 49, reduced the number of prisoners at the Navy base to 173 just days before the controversial prison camps start their 10th year.
In Farhi's case, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered his release Nov. 19, 2009, in an 80-page ruling that found Justice Department lawyers didn't prove he had joined either al Qaeda or the Taliban while in South Asia.
His lawyers asked that he be resettled elsewhere, like other Guantánamo captives, because he feared Islamic extremist violence in his native Algeria. He also feared government retaliation for the stigma of having been held at Guantánamo, even though he had been cleared.
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"Guantánamo was horrible but his fear of Algeria was even greater,'' said Boston attorney Jerry Cohen on Thursday, soon after the Defense Department revealed his client's repatriation.
Farhi had spent most of his years at Guantánamo in a steel and cement cell in a maximum security lockup, Cohen said, and was only moved to an open-air communal living arrangement after Judge Kessler ordered him freed.
The Algerian, Kessler said, "may well have started down the path toward becoming a member or substantial supporter of al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, but on this record he had not yet achieved that status.''
He had spent most of his years at Guantánamo in a solitary cell at the maximum security Camp 5, Cohen said, but was moved to open air communal living after Kessler's release order in late 2009.
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