x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emotional welcome home for Guantanamo detainee

Fouad al Rabiah, a Kuwaiti citizen who was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for almost eight years finally flew back to his family.

KUWAIT CITY // Fouad al Rabiah, a Kuwaiti citizen who was held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for almost eight years, received an emotional welcome from family members yesterday after flying from the United States with state security officials. The former Guantanamo detainee was ordered released by a US federal court after being found innocent of terrorism charges in September. He had remained at the US naval base until being handed over to Kuwaiti authorities on Wednesday.

"You could tell from his eyes that he almost couldn't believe that he is back home," said Khalid al Odah, the spokesman of the Kuwait Family Committee, a lobby group for the Kuwaiti prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Mr al Odah and two of Mr al Rabiah's brothers and two of his sons met him as he disembarked from the plane. "His wife had prepared a suitcase with his clothes and he had changed on the plane. When he came down, he was wearing the national dress - the full dishdasha and the gotra," Mr al Odah said. "It was very emotional, we are very happy to receive him - thank God."

Mr al Odah said Mr al Rabiah, who looks in good health, will undergo a medical examination before being handed over to the public prosecution on charges that his alleged actions harmed relations with a friendly country. He said the last prisoner to be released from Guantanamo Bay in October, Khaled al Mutairi, was interrogated before the attorney general dropped the charges, and he expects the same will happen to Mr al Rabiah.

After the medical exam, Mr al Rabiah will live in a rehabilitation centre in the Kuwait jail that was built for the released Guantanamo detainees, Mr al Odah said. The centre includes facilities for medical care, education and physical exercise and offers "intensive psychological and religious courses". Mr al Mutairi was held at the centre until the charges against him were dropped, and now he is allowed to come and go for its courses as he pleases, he said.

"I couldn't be happier that he's back," said US Lt Comm Kevin Bogucki, Mr al Rabiah's lead military counsel. "When you see this innocent man sitting in Guantanamo for nearly eight years - this is a happy ending to a tragic story. "His release and return, that is long overdue, demonstrates what an important role the federal courts play in obtaining justice for the Guantanamo detainees," Lt Comm Bogucki said from the US yesterday. "Now that he is finally free, the people of Kuwait should welcome him back with open arms."

David Cynamon, the lead attorney for the Kuwaiti detainees in Guantanamo Bay, said in a statement after the release: "At the very outset of Mr al Rabiah's confinement, the United States' own expert intelligence analyst concluded Mr Rabiah was an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time." "We call upon President Obama to provide both a formal apology on behalf of the United States and appropriate compensation for Mr al Rabiah's ordeal," Mr Cynamon said.

Mr al Rabiah's attorneys had increased pressure on the US government to let Mr al Rabiah go on October 13, when they asked a federal judge to hold the US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, and Rear Admiral Tom Copeman, the commander at Guantanamo Bay, in contempt for failing to comply with the order to release him. Mr al Rabiah, 50, was an employee of Kuwait Airways when he took two weeks leave in 2001 for charity work in Afghanistan.

US Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's order to release him in September said he was captured by villagers in Jalalabad, unarmed, before being handed over to the Americans. Mr al Rabiah claimed he was driving to Pakistan in order to return home. "The evidentiary record on which the government seeks to justify his indefinite detention is surprisingly bare," Judge Kollar-Kotelly said. The two charities that Mr al Rabiah volunteered for, the Kuwaiti Joint Relief Committee and the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, are both characterised by the USgovernment as organisations that provide support for terrorists.

Mr al Odah's son, Fawzi, is one of the two Kuwaitis remaining in the prison in Cuba. His petition for release was denied by Judge Kollar-Kotelly because she said the evidence suggests he became part of the Taliban and al Qa'eda forces in Afghanistan. He is appealing the decision. The other remaining Kuwaiti, Fayiz al Kandari, has still not completed his legal hearings. In total, 12 Kuwaitis have been held in Guantanamo Bay.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae