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U.S. Approves Release of Last Russian Held at Guantanamo

A former ballet dancer and member of the Russian military who has been imprisoned as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo for nearly 14 years was given notice Monday that a review board has approved his release from the U.S. base in Cuba.

Ravil Mingazov was deemed eligible for release by the Periodic Review Board, an interagency task force set up by the Obama administration to evaluate whether prisoners not facing charges can be released without endangering U.S. security. He is the last Russian citizen still held at Guantanamo.

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A statement announcing the decision was posted on the board's website, and Mingazov's lawyers said they notified him by video-teleconference from their office in Washington to the base in Cuba. The Russian planned a celebratory dinner with other prisoners at Guantanamo, said attorney Gary Thompson of the global firm Reed, Smith LLP.

"It was emotional. We are still just in a state of disbelief," Thompson said. "It's been 14 years that Ravil has been imprisoned without charges. It's an amazing day."

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Authorities accused of Mingazov, 48, of fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. A Pentagon profile released before a review board hearing in June said he also was believed to have links to an Islamic group in Uzbekistan with ties to al-Qaida. He was captured in Pakistan at a safe house associated with Abu Zubaydah, a "facilitator" for the terrorist organization who is also detained in Guantanamo.

Image: File photo of a Navy guard patrolling Camp Delta's detainee recreation yard during the early morning at Guantanamo Bay naval base
A Navy guard patrols Camp Delta's detainee recreation yard during the early morning at Guantanamo Bay naval base in a July 7, 2010 handout. President Barack Obama urged lawmakers on Tuesday to give his plan to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a "fair hearing" and said he did not want to pass the issue to his successor when he leaves the White House next year. R. Holzworth/US Army / Reuters

Mingazov, who denied any involvement in terrorism, was never charged with a crime. The board said in announcing its decision that it had "some concern with the detainee's failure to demonstrate sufficient candor" about activities before he was detained but nevertheless determined he did not pose such a risk that he needed to be detained. It said he had been a "low-level fighter."

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His lawyers have asked the government to resettle him in Nottingham, England, where his son and ex-wife live under political asylum. The review board statement did not say where Mingazov would be sent or when he would be released. Britain most recently accepted a Guantanamo prisoner in October with the release of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen who was a resident of Britain before his capture.

Image:
A detainee is escorted to interrogation by U.S. military guards at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in 2002. ANDRES LEIGHTON / AP file

The U.S. has held about nine Russian citizens at Guantanamo since it opened in January 2002. The Russian government has criticized Mingazov's confinement and said he should be returned to his homeland. But the Pentagon profile says he does not want to return to Russia, possibly because he fears facing criminal charges there. Mingazov has told officials he left Russia because of the treatment of Muslims there.

Mingazov "maintains a strong disdain for the Russian government and does not want to be repatriated, claiming his treatment in Guantanamo is better than the treatment he received in Russia," the document says.

The U.S. holds 76 prisoners at Guantanamo, including 32 who have been approved for release and transfer. Officials have said they intend to release most of those cleared by the end of summer.