The United States announced Thursday that it had sent 16 men home to Saudi Arabia from the prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including a long-held detainee who lost both his legs during U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan.
It was the seventh large transfer in 17 months of Saudi citizens, and it left fewer than 40 Saudis among the Pentagon's estimated 340 captives still at Guantanamo.
Saudis were once the largest single nationality group among men from around the world imprisoned there after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
None of the 16 had been charged with a crime, and it was likely they would be set free in their homeland following a familiar Saudi Arabia routine of letting their families greet them, then taking them away for investigation before resettling them.
Among those sent home was Abdullah Thani al Anazi, 27, who arrived at the Navy base in early 2002. Both legs had been amputated before he got there.
His attorneys said he was with a charity mission in Afghanistan when his legs were blown off in U.S. airstrikes. They reported that he suffered chronic pain in detention and at times held his U.S.-provided prosthetic legs together with duct tape.
The military said in documents that declared him an "enemy combatant'' that he was an al Qaida trainee who was badly injured in the battle for Tora Bora.
The Saudi news agency quoted Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi interior minister, as expressing his "happiness'' at the arrivals, which come ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The prince said King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has set the goal of bringing home "all Saudis detained in Guantanamo.''
With the exception of 14 so-called high-value detainees brought from secret CIA custody in 2006, the Pentagon has been steadily reducing the number of prisoners there while preparing to hold tribunals against a small number of prisoners expected to be charged with crimes.
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)