For Gitmo detainee, rare phone call home to Saudi Arabia

Saudi family members are allowed to speak annually to those detained as 'enemy combatants' by the US

Abdulhadi al-Marri spoke firmly into the phone, reassuring the man US officials say is a "sleeper" Al Qaeda operative that a family member was doing well.

"He's with us .... He's fine," Mr. Marri told his younger brother, Ali Saleh al-Marri, who was listening from the US naval base in Charleston, S.C.

Having assuaged his detained brother's concerns about one of his sons, Marri ended the hour-long call arranged by the Saudi Red Crescent Society, a humanitarian organization.

Eighteen family members had driven to Riyadh to speak with their relative, held without charge for more than six years. An "enemy combatant," Ali al-Marri is in a military prison because, unlike Guantánamo inmates, he was arrested in the United States.

Abdulhadi al-Marri said later that he does not believe the US charges. But if his brother has done wrong, he added, the US should charge and sentence him. "I am ashamed because this United States is [supposed to be] a humanitarian state," he said. "It's just the opposite."

The Saudi Red Crescent Society has organized similar calls for half a dozen Saudi detainees at Guantánamo, according to the society's international relations director, Muwaffak al-Bayouk.

That followed a decision by the Defense Department to permit inmates one phone call a year to family, he said.

"The families who have been really stressed out for the past years ... have at least heard the voice of their sons, and know how they are doing ... that's a great relief for everybody," Mr. Bayouk said.

Some Guantánamo inmates declined a call because they did not trust the ICRC and Saudi Red Crescent, Mr. Bayouk said. That was the case with Marri's brother Jarallah, released last Monday. He is now in Qatar because he, like Ali al-Marri, is a Qatari citizen.

Ali al-Marri, arrested in Peoria, Ill., in December 2001, has not been charged. A July 2007 Washington Post report said US investigators had concluded that Marri arrived in the US on Sept. 10, 2001, with his family to be a sleeper Al Qaeda agent. Before that, Marri had been a student for eight years in Illinois.

Marri's lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, of New York University School of Law, wrote in an e-mail that his client "has consistently denied any allegations of wrongdoing and maintained his innocence. If the government has the evidence they say they have, the question is why don't they charge and try him. Their failure to do so speaks volumes about the weakness of their case."

After the call, Ali al-Marri's family was buoyed. "He's OK … his voice is very good," said Abdulhadi al-Marri.

Maha al-Marri blames President Bush for her husband's situation, she said, but added: "I had a very good experience with the American people, who were really kind to me and my children when we were there."

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