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U.S. Will Send Prominent Guantánamo Detainee to Britain

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has notified Congress that he has approved sending a high-profile detainee at the Guantánamo Bay prison to Britain, a move that will ease a point of diplomatic tension between the United States and a close ally.

The detainee, Shaker Aamer, is a Saudi citizen but was a longtime British resident. Prime Minister David Cameron; members of Parliament, including Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party; and various British celebrities, like the musicians Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel and Sting, have put increasing public and diplomatic pressure on the Obama administration to transfer Mr. Aamer.

A six-agency task force recommended him for transfer in 2009, but disputes over where he should go — his native Saudi Arabia or Britain, where his family lives — and internal concerns among American security officials about what would happen if he were freed have kept him at Guantánamo.

Mr. Aamer has denied involvement with Al Qaeda, and his supporters say he was falsely accused of terrorism and is a victim of arbitrary detention who should long since have been reunited with his wife and children. But some American officials have portrayed him as a charismatic, manipulative and potentially dangerous Islamist leader who had many links to Qaeda figures before his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001, and who encouraged hunger strikes and maybe even suicides at the Guantánamo prison, where he was taken in February 2002.

President Obama told Mr. Cameron in a phone call on Thursday that Mr. Carter was providing the notification to Congress. By statute, the defense secretary must tell lawmakers at least 30 days before any detainee transfer that he is satisfied that the risks of post-release militant activity have been substantially mitigated by security arrangements with the receiving country.

A decision on transferring Mr. Aamer had been rumored for weeks, and officials said his case had been discussed at length in a 90-minute cabinet-level meeting in July in which the National Security Council pressed Mr. Carter to make decisions about proposed transfers more quickly.

Mr. Carter’s decision to notify Congress on Thursday that he had approved transferring Mr. Aamer, and the discussion in Mr. Obama’s phone call with Mr. Cameron, were first reported by The Washington Post on Friday, and were confirmed by several administration officials.

The Pentagon later distributed a statement acknowledging Mr. Carter’s approval, saying it followed “a thorough review of his case and taking into consideration the robust security assurances that will be provided by the British government, one of our strongest allies, who has supported our efforts to close the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.”

One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Carter had also told Congress on Thursday that he had approved transferring another detainee, and that lawmakers had recently received notice that he had approved transferring two others.

There are 114 detainees remaining at Guantánamo, which Mr. Obama still wants to close before he leaves office in January 2017. Of those, 53, like Mr. Aamer, are recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met. Most were designated as such by a 2009 task force of six agencies, but a growing number received that recommendation by a parole-like panel called the Periodic Review Board.

Most recently, the military disclosed this week that the board had decided to recommend the repatriation of another Saudi, Muhammed al-Shamrani, whom the task force six years ago had labeled too dangerous to release.

The board, which began work in late 2013, is gradually whittling down the list of detainees whom the task force deemed unreleasable. Of the 15 detainees the task force put in that category whom the board has finished scrutinizing, it has recategorized 13 as transferable. That leaves 51 who have not been charged or convicted in the military commissions system and are not recommended for release.

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(via NY Times)