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Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Carol Rosenberg, The Miami Herald

The United States sent home to Algeria on Thursday a long-held Guantanamo captive who was cleared for return years ago but for a time sought resettlement elsewhere rather than repatriation to his civil-war-stricken homeland.

Ahmed Belbacha, 44, became the first prisoner released from the Pentagon detention center this year. The U.S. never charged him with a crime during 12 years in custody, but an Algerian court convicted him of terror-related charges in 2009 and issued a 20-year sentence while he as at Guantanamo.

Still, he returned voluntarily to see his elderly parents, said his attorney, Alka Pradhan of the Washington, D.C., branch of a London-based legal defense organization, Reprieve.

“He wants to go home and spend time with his parents,” said Pradhan.

“What happens once he returns will depend on the Algerian government and any agreements between them and the United States,” she added. “But our hope is that he will be now finally be allowed to freely return to his family.”

The transfer, conducted overnight, reduced the prisoner population to 154, according to a Pentagon statement, which cast it as another incremental step toward President Barack Obama’s ambition of closing the U.S. Navy base prison in southeast Cuba.

The military disclosed the transfer hours before Marine Gen. John F. Kelly was due to testify at the Senate Armed Services Committee on his budget request for the U.S. Southern Command. Kelly has oversight of the prison from Southcom, the Pentagon’s outpost in Doral.

A Department of Defense statement said Congress was notified of the plan to send Belbacha home.