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Kuwaiti faces Guantanamo transfer hearing after security assurances

By Ian Simpson

ARLINGTON Va. (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison since 2002 faced a parole-style hearing on Wednesday on whether he should be transferred home following Kuwait's security assurances.

Although the U.S. military contends Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al-Awda, 37, may have fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban, his lawyer Eric Lewis told the hearing he was not a threat to the United States.

Al-Awda's appearance before the Periodic Review Board was to re-examine whether he should still be held without charge at the U.S. military's prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or be transferred to Kuwait.

Kuwait and the United States have set out commitments for al-Awda that include a rehabilitation program of at least one year at a Kuwaiti prison and security monitoring, Lewis said in a statement he read during the hearing.

"All prerequisites for his transfer to government of Kuwait are now in place," he said.

Al-Awda wants to return to Kuwait, reunite with his family, marry and enter the family plumbing supply business, he said.

A U.S. Defense Department profile read at the hearing said al-Awda probably attended extremist training camp and may have fought in Afghanistan. He has been at Guantanamo Bay since February 2002 and has been a leader among the prisoners, it said.

The non-classified part of the hearing lasted about 28 minutes and was transmitted by closed-circuit television to a viewing site near the Pentagon just outside Washington.

It showed the bearded and bespectacled al-Awda in prison garb sitting at a table with Lewis and his military representatives.

Al-Awda is the seventh Guantanamo Bay prisoner to appear before the national security panel. The board was established to speed up the prison's closing as ordered by President Barack Obama.

The number of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has fallen to 149 with the swap of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl on Saturday.

The Periodic Review Board has determined that three Yemenis are eligible for transfer. The most recent transfer ruling came last month for Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani, after his defenders contended he had been a cook in Afghanistan and was not a threat to the United States.

The panel has found that a fourth Yemeni should remain in custody.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Susan Heavey)

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