Biden Frees First Prisoner from Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Approved for Release Five Years Ago


Abdul Latif Nasser, in a photo taken at Guantánamo in recent years.

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In great news from Guantánamo, the Department of Defense announced today that Abdul Latif Nasser (aka Nasir), the last Moroccan national in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, has been repatriated. I’ve been writing about Nasser’s case since I first began researching and writing about Guantánamo over 15 years ago, and in recent years his story has frequently featured in the media, not least via a six-part Radiolab series last year.

Nasser, 56, was approved for release five years and eight days ago, after a Periodic Review Board, a review process set up under President Obama, established that, to use the PRB’s own studiously careful terminology, “law of war detention of Abdul Latif Nasir no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States.” As a result, as the DoD’s news release explained, the board — which “consists of one senior career official from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, along with the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence” — authorized his “repatriation to his native country of Morocco, subject to security and humane treatment assurances.”

Nasser’s release from Guantánamo should have been straightforward, but the paperwork between the US and the Moroccan government wasn’t completed until 22 days before Obama left office, and, because legislation passed by Congress stipulated that lawmakers had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner release, he missed being freed by just eight days.

He then languished at the prison for another four years, under Donald Trump, when only one prisoner was released — a Saudi who had agreed a plea deal in his military commission trial, which stipulated that he had to be returned to continued imprisonment in his home country.

Tomorrow marks six months since Joe Biden’s inauguration, and while it is to his administration’s credit that Nasser has finally been freed, it should, in all honesty, have happened sooner.

I’m delighted that Nasser is finally going to be reunited with his family, and will hopefully be at liberty to resume life as a free man, although the Associated Press noted that, on his return, “the public prosecutor at the Court of Appeal in Rabat said the National Division of the Judicial Police in Casablanca had been instructed to open an investigation into Nasser ‘on suspicion of committing terrorist acts.’” As the AP noted, the announcement “didn’t specify” what those “terrorist acts” were supposed to have been, but Nasser’s Guantánamo file claimed that he had been “a member of a nonviolent but illegal Moroccan Sufi Islam group in the 1980s.”

Nasser’s attorney in Morocco, Khalil Idrissi, said that the “judicial authorities should not ‘take measures that prolong his torment and suffering, especially since he lived through the hell of Guantánamo.’” He added that he “hoped the investigation into Nasser would not ‘continue to deprive him of his freedom’ so he could finally ‘meet his family again,’” and also said that the years Nasser spent in Guantánamo “were unjustified and outside the law, and what he suffered remains a stain of disgrace on the forehead of the American system.”

As well as keeping an eye on Abdul Latif Nasser’s freedom, now that he has finally been released from Guantánamo, we should also not forget that ten other men still held at Guantánamo — out of the 39 men in total who are now still held — have also been approved for release: five in recent months, under President Biden, one at the end of Trump’s presidency, one in 2016, and three in 2010 under Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, two of whom, by all accounts, have refused all efforts to facilitate their release, a situation that must raise concerns about their state of mind.

Of the other 29 men still held, just 12 are facing trials, or have been through the trial process, leaving 17 others as “forever prisoners,” held indefinitely without charge or trial. As numerous critics of the prison’s continued existence have explained in recent months — most prominently, 24 Democratic Senators who wrote a letter to Biden in April — it is unacceptable that anyone held without charge or trial should continue to be held, and, as a result, the Biden administration also needs to authorize the release of these men — through PRBs, if, as seems sadly apparent, the Civil Division of the Justice Department is as intent on defending continued imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo as it has been throughout the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

POSTSCRIPT: On July 20, the New York Times updated Nasser’s story, noting that he has been allowed to return to his family home in Casablanca, and was reunited with his relatives for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holy day known as the Feast of Sacrifice. Bernard E. Harcourt, a New York-based lawyer and law professor, who had represented him in federal court, noted that he was “ecstatic,” and explained that he and his co-counsel, Thomas Anthony Durkin, had spoken to him by phone at his family home, where he was “in good spirits,” and “was particularly buoyed by being reunited with extended family members who had gathered for Eid al-Adha.”

In a statement, reported by ABC News, Abdul Latif Nasser said, “I was born again on July 19. My birthday is no longer March 4. I was born yesterday on July 19.” He added, “I have no words to describe my overwhelming sense of happiness and joy. It is like a miracle after 20 years to be home and celebrate Eid together with my family. I want to thank everyone, all the people who worked very hard and spared no efforts to make this possible.”

Hs brother Mustafa said that the family “were delighted” that Nasser was home in time for Eid al-Adha. “This is a dream for us as a family that came true at a very special moment,” he said, adding, “We want to thank everyone involved who made this miracle possible. Now we would just like some peace and some time to ourselves to help our brother begin his new life in Morocco.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, celebrating the good news that President Biden has finally released a prisoner from Guantanamo — Abdul Latif Nasser, approved for release five years ago by a Periodic Review Board, a review process set up by President Obama. He narrowly missed being released at the end of Obama’s presidency, and then languished for another four years under Donald Trump.

    I hope that the Moroccan authorities will not interfere with his freedom, following the news, reported by the Associated Press, that he is groundlessly being investigated “on suspicion of committing terrorist acts,” and I remind President Biden that he must follow up as soon as possible by releasing the ten other men still held who have also been approved for release — five in recent months, one at the end of Trump’s presidency, one in 2016, and three in 2010.

  2. paul siemering says...

    HI ANDY-
    There’s a great long bit on al jazeera tonite- inside story but also Ahmed Rabani- still a prisoner, writing about how it affected his children

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Paul. I recall seeing Ahmed Rabbani’s account when it was published back in March. Perhaps he will also be approved for release now that his brother has been approved for release. His next Periodic Review Board hearing is on August 17.

  4. Anna says...

    Direly needed good news indeed and may it be the harbinger of more in the nearest future :-).
    I usually skip Inside Story, but looked this one up.
    Some misunderstanding ? Last night’s one was about Covid in Indonesia. Maybe it will feature tonight ?
    I suppose ‘tonight’ depends on Paul’s time zone :-).
    Yesterday AJE also had an interview with Ramzi, who put this release in a wider perspective.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, other prisoner releases should follow soon, Anna – Saifullah Paracha, Abdul Rahim Rabbani and Sufyian Barhoumi, for example – but the administration also needs to urgently appoint an official to deal with resettlements for those who can’t be repatriated – the Yemenis. I was glad to see the DoD, in its press release, acknowledging that mistakes were made with resettlements under Obama, noting that transfers must only take place “subject to security and humane treatment assurances” – a clear reference, I think, to the nightmare still afflicting the men sent to the UAE.

    Glad also to hear that AJE interviewed Ramzi. I should watch it more often!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version, via the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Biden libera a su primer prisionero de Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, cuya libertad fue aprobada hace cinco años’:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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