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Pentagon drops war crimes charges against Kuwaiti

By Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — The Pentagon on Friday abruptly dropped nearly 4-year-old charges against a Kuwaiti captive at Guantanamo, on the same day the Kuwaiti ambassador disclosed ongoing talks for release of the oil nation’s last two citizens held at the prison camps in Cuba.

In the case of Faiz al-Kandari, 37, military commissions officials noted that a senior Pentagon official, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, dismissed the Bush-era charges “without prejudice,” meaning the Pentagon could once again charge the Kuwaiti with war crimes.

The Pentagon would not provide an explanation for the timing. A Pentagon prosecutor swore out the charges in October 2008, but al-Kandari had never been brought before the war court to face formal charges.

The dismissed charge sheet alleged that al-Kandari trained with al-Qaida, served as an adviser to Osama bin Laden and also produced al-Qaida tapes that recruited men to jihad. His military defense lawyer had said al-Kandari was a Muslim in Afghanistan at the wrong time and that the military has built a case based on vague allegations and triple hearsay.

His family has said he went as a student to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to volunteer as a charity worker.

In Washington, Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Jaber al-Sabah told the official news agency KUNA on Friday that a delegation dispatched by the emir was engaged in talks with U.S. officials for the release of al-Kandari and a second citizen held at Guantanamo, Fawzi al-Odah, 35.

Emir Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabar al-Sabah had instructed the delegation “to find a quick solution to bring back the detainees to their homeland as soon as possible,” KUNA reported.

Negotiations had led to the release, through the years, of 10 other Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo, including at least one man who like al-Kandari had been accused during the Bush era of war crimes and had charges sworn for a military commission.

Al-Odah and al-Kandari have been held in military detention for more than a decade. Each man had sued for his freedom in federal court, and each lost his habeas corpus petition. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in Washington, D.C., ruled in separate hearings in 2010 that each man was lawfully held

Al-Kandari’s Pentagon-assigned defense lawyer, Air Force Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, said he was taken by surprise by the decision to withdraw the charges. He added that he expected to continue representing the captive even without pending charges at military commissions.

As of Friday, the Pentagon held 169 captives at Guantánamo — six of them awaiting capital trials at commission and five of them convicted of war crimes. One convict, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul of Yemen, is serving life in prison as bin Laden’s former media secretary. Another convict, Ibrahim al-Qosi of Sudan, finishes up his sentence next month.

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