x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kuwait in talks with US over Guantanamo

Prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah, is due to meet with the US special envoy overseeing the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah, was due to meet with the US special envoy overseeing the closure of Guantanamo Bay yesterday to discuss the remaining Kuwaiti detainees ahead of tomorrow's UN General Assembly's debate on the detention centre, the state news agency Kuna reported.

The meeting with Daniel Fried of the US state department is the latest high-level discussion about prisoners held at Guantanamo between the two countries. In August, the emir, Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed al Jaber al Sabah, discussed the issue with the US president, Barack Obama, at a meeting in the Whitehouse, Kuwait's minister for foreign affairs said. Mr Fried, who has been dubbed the "Guantanamo closure czar" by the press, leads a team trying to realise the Obama administration's plan of closing the controversial detention facility in Cuba by January 2010. This involves persuading other countries, especially in Europe, to accept detainees who cannot return home.

In a recent interview with the BBC, he said negotiating the release of the detainees is "a huge problem and a complicated one". But the special envoy will not face any resistance in returning Kuwaiti citizens to Kuwait, where the government has recently finished a secure rehabilitation centre to meet the previous Washington administration's conditions for the prisoners' return. The detention of Kuwaitis for several years at the US naval base as "enemy combatants" has recently been described as "a thorn in the relationship" between the two countries by the US ambassador to Kuwait, Deborah Jones.

Two of the detainees have already been ordered released after petitioning for habeas corpus, which demands a judge rule on the lawfulness of a prisoner's detention, and the release of another has been denied. The fourth detainee's hearing is scheduled for October 19. On Thursday, Fouad al Rabiah became the most recent detainee to be ordered released. The US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's order said: "The government is directed to take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate the release of the petitioner, al Rabiah."

The prisoner's lawyer, Lt Comm Kevin Bogucki, said: "We are all very pleased with the result, but our work will not be done until he is safely home with his family in Kuwait. I sincerely hope the US government does the right thing and complies with the court order immediately." Khalid al Odah, the head of a local pressure group called the Kuwaiti Family Committee, said: "We anxiously await Fouad's return ? While we can't make up for time lost these last seven years, we are very grateful for the judge's courageous actions."

Mr al Odah is the father of the detainee whose petition for release was denied in August, Fawzi al Odah. Judge Kollar-Kotelly said she denied Fawzi's release because the evidence suggests he became part of the Taliban and al Qa'eda forces in Afghanistan. Lt Col Barry Wingard, the lawyer for Fayiz al Kandari, the last of the four Kuwaitis to have a hearing in October, said he is extremely optimistic for his client after the ordered release of al Rabiah. He said "There is nothing in [al Kandari's] case which even approaches a crime".

The lawyer said he is "amazed" that one of the Kuwaitis petition to be released failed. "If we would be sent to a real court system such as the US federal court, we would certainly win, however that's not going to happen," he said. In June 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that the detainees had the right to appeal to US civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges. Lawyers were assigned to the prisoners later that year once charges were filed.

Ms Jones recently said the US government would like to return whoever they can, even though she described them as "dangerous individuals". She said both the Kuwaiti and US governments faced an embarrassing situation when eight other Kuwaiti detainees were released from Guantanamo in the past."One of them was able to regain his passport, through legal means, and go up to Mosul where he blew himself up and a number of Iraqis as well - all evidence suggests," she said.

In a bid to prove to Washington that there will be no repeat of the incident, Kuwaiti officials conducted several visits to Saudi Arabia to copy its much-vaunted rehabilitation programme. Lt Col Wingard said the Obama administration has been unclear about whether a rehabilitation centre is now a condition for the release of prisoners. The centre is located in a secure compound within a Kuwaiti jail, and the detainees will have access to education, group discussions and physical exercise.

Judges have freed about 30 prisoners in 37 habeas corpus cases so far. About 229 detainees remain at Guantanamo, some of whom have been cleared to be sent home. jcalderwood@thenational.ae