A Milan court on Monday ordered Italian authorities to release former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Abdel Ben Mabrouk [NYT materials], finding that the eight years Mabrouk served at Guantanamo and the year he spent in an Italian prison were sufficient punishment. The judge handed Mabrouk a two-year suspended sentence [AKI report] for terrorist association based on recommendations from Mabrouk's lawyer and prosecutor Armando Spataro. The fact that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is illegal under Italian law played a role in the prosecution's agreement to seek a lenient sentence [CP report]. The US government transferred Mabrouk [JURIST report] from Guantanamo Bay to Italy in 2009 along with fellow Tunisian Mohamed Ben Riadh Nasri [NYT materials], whom an Italian court sentenced to six years in prison [JURIST report] last week, as part of the US government's attempt to shut down the detention center. It is unclear where Mabrouk will go after being released, especially given the political situation in his home country.
The continued operation of Guantanamo Bay remains controversial. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized US President Barack Obama [JURIST report] for failing to shut down the facility. Obama's stated desire to close Guantanamo has faced heavy opposition in Congress. In early January, Obama signed a bill barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] to the US for trial. The legislation authorized funding for defense interests abroad, military construction and national security-related energy programs and barred the use of funds to transfer detainees into the US and limited funds available for transfers to foreign countries. The administration plans to seek the repeal of these restrictions and opposes the extension or expansion of them in the future. The number of detainees at Guantanamo has been significantly reduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees to a growing list of countries including Germany, Italy, Spain, Maldives, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan and Bermuda [JURIST reports]. There are currently 178 detainees awaiting transfer from Guantanamo.