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Journalist Latif Nasser Discusses Abdul Latif Nasser's Release From Guantanamo

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To the news now that the Biden administration has transferred a Guantanamo detainee to Morocco. This marks the first time a prisoner there has been released since President Biden took office. The prisoner is a Moroccan citizen, 56 years old, named Abdul Latif Nasir. And we're going to hear a reaction now from Latif Nasser, the other Latif, a journalist and co-host at WNYC's Radiolab. Here's the story. Years ago, the journalist Latif learned by chance by a random tweet that he shared the same name as detainee No. 244 at Guantanamo Bay. He was intrigued. He spent years investigating, and the result is a podcast which he named The Other Latif.

Latif Nasser, good to speak with you again.

LATIF NASSER, BYLINE: Thanks so much for having me back.

KELLY: How did you get word that this transfer was coming?

NASSER: We had been hearing rumors for months about this. But it wasn't until basically late last night, early this morning that we got sort of an official word from government spokespeople that this was really happening and that this was - they basically didn't want to officially confirm it until the wheels were on the ground...

KELLY: Yeah.

NASSER: ...In Morocco, until Abdul Latif Nasir sort of made it back to his home country.

KELLY: Did you ever get the chance to meet him?

NASSER: I desperately wanted to meet him. I desperately wanted to interview him. And I went to Guantanamo Bay with the hopes of doing just that. But then I learned that I wasn't allowed to interview him. Nobody's allowed to interview sort of current Guantanamo detainees. I got to sort of maybe see him through a two-way mirror, but I wasn't sure that it was him because he was sort of half in shadow.

KELLY: Will you try to go there, to Morocco?

NASSER: I want to. I'm not going to sort of - I don't want to barge in. It's a tough thing to get out of, you know, a place for 19 years. I don't want to kind of barge in. But ultimately I do. I really want to interview him and find out all the things I wasn't able to find out despite my years of investigating things that I feel like I could really only get from him.

KELLY: Yeah. You know, when I interviewed you last year because the podcast had just dropped, you were trying to figure out whether you had gotten to the bottom of this, whether you had gotten to the real story of who this guy was, what he did or did not do. There were allegations that he was the top al-Qaida explosives expert, that he was a senior military commander directly associated with Osama bin Laden. His lawyer denied that, just said he was just...

NASSER: Yeah.

KELLY: ...In the wrong place at the wrong time. And your work for years was trying to figure out, you know, this gray area with very few facts to try to figure out what really happened.

NASSER: Exactly. And in the process, we did find some quite damning evidence. It did seem to our team that he did work on Osama bin Laden's farm in Sudan. We also believe that he did go to training camps in Afghanistan. That said, kind of the overwhelming feeling that we were left with after this years-long investigation was that the U.S. government's evidence was both very overblown and very unreliable. That was really ultimately the feeling that we were left with - that there was so little evidence to justify the kind of huge claims that they were making in those leaked, you know, dossiers that it didn't match up. It wasn't grounds to hold someone for 19 years.

KELLY: Nineteen years. Based on your reporting, what kind of life awaits him?

NASSER: I visited his family in Morocco. I saw the home that he's - you know, he was born in and he's going to return to. They actually, like, sort of renovated the house, made a little, like, kind of apartment for him. There's also, you know, in that - in his home city of Casablanca, there's a rehab center for torture survivors. You know, my impulse when I first started the story was, oh, you know, when - if and when he gets released, if he didn't have anti-American sentiment before, he probably has it now. But actually, from - what I can tell from his lawyers, from his family is that he's not angry so much as tired and sad. I think he wants to start a family. That seems to be the thing that he is sort of focused on next.

KELLY: Latif Nasser, host of the podcast The Other Latif talking about the transfer of a Guantanamo detainee who shares his name. The prisoner population at Guantanamo now stands at 39 men.

Latif Nasser, thank you.

NASSER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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