A military board has cleared Fawzi Odah, a 37-year-old Kuwaiti whose father worked with U.S. troops during the 1991 Gulf War, for release from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Periodic Review Board found earlier this month that Odah was a low-level Al Qaeda member who would not constitute a threat. Its decision was announced Friday. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel must still approve the decision and notify Congress before Odah can be sent home.
Odah had won a major 2008 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that detainees at Guantanamo have the right to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts, despite claims by President George W. Bush that as commander-in-chief, he had an unquestionable right to detain terrorist suspects.
But the ruling had limited impact. While the decision opened the courts to a flood of suits, no prisoner has won his release through appeals to the federal courts.
The board’s decision seemed to call into question some of the justification for Odah’s 13-year detention in the first place. It noted his “low level of training and lack of a leadership position in Al Qaeda.” Odah has indicated his willingness to go through a rehabilitation program in Kuwait, it said.
Odah was captured in Afghanistan near the Tora Bora Mountains in late 2001 by a Pakistani militia. The U.S. military said he was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, had sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda and was recruiting terrorist candidates.
His father, Khalid Odah, a U.S.-trained Kuwaiti Air Force colonel who helped U.S. troops organize resistance to Iraq, has always insisted that his son was doing charitable work helping refugees.
“We are grateful to the board for clearing Fawzi for release and for the tremendous effort by the State of Kuwait, at its highest levels, to repatriate its citizens,” said Eric Lewis, Odah's lawyer.
The nonprofit Human Rights First called the announcement “a welcome development” but said “there is much more left to be done.”
It said there are 149 men held at Guantanamo and that 79 have been cleared for release. Unlike Odah, many of those cleared have nowhere to go because their home countries are unable to handle them.