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US seeks to block release of Guantanamo prisoner said to be in dire health from hunger strike

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MIAMI — The administration of President Barack Obama urged a federal judge on Friday not to order the release of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who has been on hunger strike for more than eight years and is described by his lawyers as being at risk of imminent death.

Justice Department lawyers argued against the immediate release of Yemeni prisoner Tariq Ba Odah in a sealed court filing delivered to a court in Washington just ahead of a deadline.

A Justice Department statement said the filing is sealed because it deals with a detainee's medical issues and a public version will be released later.

Ba Odah has been held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge as a suspected affiliate of al-Qaida since January 2002. He has been cleared for transfer back to his homeland but no prisoners are being sent to Yemen because of instability there.

He has been on hunger strike to protest his indefinite confinement since February 2007 and has been force-fed liquid nutrients to prevent him from starving to death. Still, his weight has dropped to around 75 pounds, said Omar Farah, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights who represents him.

Ba Odah, who is about 37, is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and is at 56 percent of his ideal body weight, said Fara, who sought a writ of habeas corpus that would allow him to be immediately released.

"All the president has to decide is whether to exercise his discretion not to contest the motion and release Mr. Ba Odah so that he does not die," Fara said.

The administration, which has sought to close the detention center at Guantanamo but has been blocked by Congress, did not say publicly why it opposes an order immediately releasing Ba Odah. The Justice Department statement said the government "remains committed to promptly securing an appropriate location to which Petitioner Ba Odah can be transferred."

The U.S. holds 116 prisoners at Guantanamo, including 69 from Yemen.

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