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October 11, 2013

Some at Guantanamo jail too sick to keep locked up, according to lawyers

MIAMI (AP) — Tarek El-Sawah is in terrible shape after 11 years as a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, a fact even the U.S. military does not dispute.

During his time in captivity, the weight of the 55-year-old Egyptian has nearly doubled, reaching more than 420 pounds at one point, and his health has deteriorated as a result, both his lawyers and government officials concede.

Lawyers for El-Sawah, and the doctors they have brought down to the U.S. base in Cuba to examine him, paint a dire picture — a morbidly obese man with diabetes and a range of other serious ailments. He is short of breath, barely able to walk 10 feet, unable to stay awake in meetings and faces the possibility of not making it out of prison alive.

“We are very afraid that he is at a high risk of death, that he could die at any moment,” said Marine Lt. Col. Sean Gleason, a military lawyer appointed to represent him.

Details about the condition of El-Sawah, who has admitted being an al-Qaida explosives trainer but is no longer facing charges, are emerging in a series of recently filed court motions that provide a rare glimpse into the health of an unusual prisoner, and a preview of arguments that may become more common as the Guantanamo Bay prison ages into a second decade with no prospects for closure in sight.

He’s not the only one of the 164 prisoners at Guantanamo who is seriously ill. Last week, a judge ordered the release of a schizophrenic Sudanese man who spent much of the past decade medicated in the prison psych ward. His lawyers argued he was so sick, with ailments that also included diabetes, that he couldn’t possibly pose a threat and therefore the U.S. no longer had the authority to hold him. The judge’s ruling came after the government withdrew its opposition to his release.

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