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As Biden releases first Guantanamo detainee, could the camp’s closure be far behind?

The Biden administration released its first detainee from the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba on Monday. Abdul Latif Nasser was never charged with a crime, yet remained detained for 19 years. Nearly 800 prisoners have passed through Guantanamo since early 2002. Now, 39 remain. Thomas Durkin, Nasser's lawyer, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss his release and the camp's future.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the Biden administration released its first detainee from the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

    As Amna Nawaz reports, it's an effort to decrease the population and eventually shut down the prison complex nearly two decades after its opening.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the Biden administration says its goal is to close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.

    Today, they began that process by releasing Abdul Latif Nasser. He was never charged with a crime, but remained detained for nineteen years. Today, he was repatriated to Morocco, where he will remain under tight security measures.

    Nearly 800 prisoners have passed through Guantanamo since detainees first arrived there in early 2002. Now 39 remain.

    To discuss this move, I'm joined by Tom Durkin. He's the lawyer for Abdul Latif Nasser.

    Tom Durkin, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thanks for making the time.

    Tell me, what was your reaction and his when you learned he was going to leave Guantanamo today, after nearly two decades?

  • Thomas Durkin:

    Well, I can't speak for him because I haven't spoken to him yet. I did speak to his brother, who was absolutely ecstatic.

    I am told he has been released in Morocco, but I haven't heard from him yet. He probably has more important people to see than me at this moment. I was just tremendously relieved. It is like getting a boulder off your shoulder, is the best I can say. It is just awful, what happened to him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, he was cleared for release, we should say, back in 2016. Do you know why this happened today?

  • Thomas Durkin:

    I don't know why it happened today.

    I do know why — I have a theory on why it happened in the last few weeks, because we have a pleading that was due in the federal court. And we had filed, along with Bernard Harcourt at Columbia Law School, with the help of some law students there, an amendment to a mass petition for 11 people who were labeled forever prisoners.

    And I believe he was released because the Biden administration had the integrity not to file a pleading opposing his release that they didn't believe him, unlike the Trump administration.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, what can you tell us about his situation in Morocco, because you just mentioned his family said to you he has been released.

    But Moroccan authorities did say they took him into custody and they were going to investigate him on suspicion of committing terrorist acts. So what is his current status there?

  • Thomas Durkin:

    I don't know exactly.

    I do know that the family was told that there was not going to be a lengthy investigation, which is not uncommon. I had two other detainee released in the past, one to the Sudan and one to Algeria, and those investigations aren't usually very lengthy.

    They're generally to get agreements from him that he will abide by certain conditions, what have you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Tom Durkin, we should remind folks your client was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He had trained at an al-Qaida camp.

    And just in May of this year, a number of Republican senators sent a letter to President Biden urging him not to release any more prisoners from Guantanamo, saying that the men who remained there, including your client then — quote — "are all high-risk."

    Do you believe that your clients still poses a security risk?

  • Thomas Durkin:

    No, that's an absurd, hyperbolic statement that they have been using to justify Guantanamo for years. It's simply false.

    It started with Bush's statement that they had the worst of the worst there. A periodic review board found him not to be a risk. Those are Department of Defense people. They're not bleeding heart liberals. He was found not to be a risk, as are the 11 others who are dubbed the forever detainees. They should be released immediately.

    None of the low-value detainees should still be there. Military commissions are a different discussion.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, that prison remains open, despite the efforts and the stated intention of a number of presidents.

    I have to ask, do you think that President Biden will be the one who actually succeeds in transferring out the remaining detainees and closing Guantanamo Bay?

  • Thomas Durkin:

    Only if the Democrats maintain control of the House and the Senate.

    It's become a political football. It's an absurd political football. I blame the judiciary for keeping it open. The judiciary has no spine when it comes to Guantanamo. And it's sad. I never thought I would say that about the federal judiciary. But when it comes to an issue like Guantanamo, they are spineless. They have bent over backwards to give executive authority, unfettered, limit — and no limitation whatsoever.

    And Guantanamo is a classic example of that. And it's difficult to say you can still believe in the rule of law and to have participated in Guantanamo. It's a mockery of the rule of law.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Tom Durkin, lawyer for the now former Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdul Latif Nasser.

    Mr. Durkin, thanks for being with us.

  • Thomas Durkin:

    Thank you.

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