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U.S. Frees Youngest Detainee From Guantanamo

LONDON (Reuters) - The youngest detainee held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, seized when he was just 14 years old, has been released after seven years in captivity, his lawyers said on Thursday.

Mohammed El Gharani, a Chadian citizen, was set free five months after a U.S. federal judge ordered him released after reviewing the evidence against him and ruling that it did not prove he was ever an "enemy combatant."

Gharani has already returned to Chad, his lawyers said. There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. authorities of his release.

"It is great news that Mohammed has at last been released, but he will never get back the teenage years that were spent in Guantanamo based on shamefully shoddy intelligence," said Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer and the director of Reprieve, a human rights group that has fought for his release.

"The idea that it took seven years and a federal judge to sort this out demonstrates just how failed an experiment Guantanamo Bay is."

Gharani was seized in Pakistani in 2001 when a mosque he was attending was raided by Pakistani security forces. He was ultimately turned over to the U.S. military in Afghanistan and held at a prison at Bagram air force base outside Kabul.

Two months later he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where Reprieve said he was subjected to a range of abuses, including being kept tightly shackled to the ground in a hunched position for hours on end and subjected to loud music and strobe lights.

The U.S. government had accused Gharani of staying in an al Qaeda-affiliated guest house in Afghanistan, of fighting in the battle of Tora Bora, serving as a courier for senior al Qaeda operatives, and being a member of a London-based al Qaeda cell.

But the government failed to prove any of the allegations in court and U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in January that Gharani should be freed. Most of the accusations were based on unreliable information given by other detainees at Guantanamo, Leon said.

Gharani's release comes six months after U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to shut down Guantanamo within a year, one of the first declarations he made as president.

About 230 detainees remain at the prison, but the United States is struggling to find places to return them to.

Seventeen Uighurs, who come from China's largely Muslim region of Xinjiang in the far west of the country, have been released in the past two days, with some set to go to Bermuda and others to the Micronesian island of Palau.

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