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US review panel says Guantanamo prisoner on long hunger strike can return to Saudi Arabia

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MIAMI — A prisoner who has been on a nine-year hunger strike to protest his confinement at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can now return to his native Saudi Arabia, a government review board said Friday.

The Periodic Review Board, which has been re-evaluating dozens of Guantanamo prisoners previously deemed too dangerous to release, said in a statement published on its website that Abdul Rahman Shalabi can be released to take part in a Saudi government rehabilitation program for militants and would be subject to monitoring afterward.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, dawn arrives at the now closed Camp X-Ray, which was used as the first detention facility for suspected militants captured after the Sept. 11 attacks, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. A government board reviewing the cases of dozens of men held at Guantanamo has decided that detainee Abdul Rahman Shalabi can return to his native Saudi Arabia, according to a brief statement by the board on Friday, June 26, 2015. Shalabi has been on a nine-year hunger strike to protest his indefinite confinement without charge. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, dawn arrives at the now closed Camp X-Ray, which was used as the first detention facility for suspected militants captured after the Sept. 11 attacks, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. A government board reviewing the cases of dozens of men held at Guantanamo has decided that detainee Abdul Rahman Shalabi can return to his native Saudi Arabia, according to a brief statement by the board on Friday, June 26, 2015. Shalabi has been on a nine-year hunger strike to protest his indefinite confinement without charge. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Shalabi, 39, was among the first prisoners taken to Guantanamo in January 2002. He was never charged with a crime but the government said he had been a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and had links to the external operations chief for al-Qaida, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is facing trial by military commission at Guantanamo.

The board, which was created by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2011 as part of the effort to close the prison at Guantanamo, did not clear Shalabi of wrongdoing and said it "acknowledges the detainee's past terrorist-related activities."

Shalabi began a hunger strike in 2005. He and another prisoner, who since has been released, maintained the protest longer than any others held at the base. Court records show Shalabi occasionally consumed food but also dropped to as little as 101 pounds (46 kilograms). His lawyer told the review board in April that prison officials had fed him with a nasogastric tube daily for nine years.

The U.S. now holds 116 men at Guantanamo, including 52 cleared for transfer or release.

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