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U.S. sends home Algerian held at Guantanamo for nearly 20 years

WASHINGTON >> An Algerian man imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for nearly 20 years has been released and sent back to his homeland.

The Department of Defense announced Saturday that Sufyian Barhoumi was repatriated with assurances from the Algerian government that he would be treated humanely there and that security measures would be imposed to reduce the risk that he could pose a threat in the future.

The Pentagon did not provide details about those security measures, which could include restrictions on travel.

Barhoumi was captured in Pakistan and taken to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002. The United States eventually determined he was involved with various extremist groups but was not a member of al-Qaida or the Taliban, according to a report by a review board at the prison that approved him for release in 2016.

U.S. authorities attempted to prosecute Barhoumi in 2008 but the effort was dropped amid legal challenges to the initial version of the military commission system set up under President George W. Bush.

In the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency in January 2017, a federal judge in Washington declined to intervene in the Pentagon’s decision not to repatriate Barhoumi, whose lawyer said he had expected his client to be released and that the prisoner’s family had begun making preparations for his return, including by buying him a car and a small restaurant for him to run.

The Justice Department said then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter rejected the release of Barhoumi on Jan. 12, 2017, “based on a variety of substantive concerns, shared by multiple agencies,” without going into detail.

Barhoumi, who lost four fingers in a land mine explosion in Afghanistan, offered to plead guilty to any charges in 2012 in hopes he could receive a fixed sentence and return to his elderly mother, according to his attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“Our government owes Sufyian and his mother years of their lives back,” Kadidal said. “I’m overjoyed that he will be home with his family, but I will dearly miss his constant good humor and empathy for the suffering of others in the utterly depressing environment of Guantánamo.”

The effort to resettle prisoners languished under President Donald Trump. The Biden administration is attempting again to reduce the number of men held at Guantanamo as part of a broader effort to close the facility.

Barhoumi’s release brings the total held at the U.S. base in Cuba to 37 men, including 18 who have been deemed eligible for repatriation or resettlement in a third country.

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