This year, Mr. Darbi provided videotaped testimony against Mr. Nashiri for use if the Cole case reaches trial, along with a deposition against another detainee fighting commission charges. He had promised to cooperate as a witness in his 2014 plea deal.
Under its terms, the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years. The prosecution had joined the defense in asking for the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government. Mr. Darbi has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.
Before the commission members deliberated, Mr. Darbi, wearing a dark suit and glasses, stood at a lectern and said he took full responsibility for his actions, for which he apologized. Reporters watched a video feed of the hearing at Fort Meade, Md.
Mr. Darbi also thanked Guantánamo staff members and guards who he said had been kind to him, forgave those he said had “treated me harshly” and expressed remorse about the hardship and shame he said his actions brought his wife and children.
“I wish that I could talk now to myself years ago, or to any young man considering the same path, and tell them: ‘Don’t lose your life and future for something that is not real,’” he said.
Mr. Darbi has admitted that from 2000 until 2002, he helped plan and arrange for a Qaeda operation to sink at least one civilian oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, resulting in the attack on the French ship, the Limburg. Yemeni suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the ship in October 2002, killing a Bulgarian crew member and wounding 12 other sailors.
By then, Mr. Darbi had already been incarcerated. About four months earlier, he had been arrested in Azerbaijan and then transferred to American custody.
Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University New York who represents Mr. Darbi on a volunteer basis through his law school clinic, told the commission on Friday that as early as August 2002, his client had provided detailed information about the members and last known locations of the Qaeda cell plotting to attack ships.
The completion of the case against Mr. Darbi now sets up a policy question for the Trump administration: whether it will live up to the Obama-era deal and transfer him to Saudi Arabia by February to serve the remainder of his sentence. Mr. Darbi struck the deal with the Pentagon official who oversees the commission system, who agreed to recommend a transfer but lacks the authority to order the government to carry it out.
During the campaign, President Trump denounced President Barack Obama’s policy of trying to winnow down the Guantánamo prison’s population, calling for a halt to any more releases and vowing to instead fill it back up with “some bad dudes.”
In the nearly nine months since he took office, however, Mr. Trump has brought no new captives there. If that remains the case and Mr. Darbi is repatriated, it would mean that despite his campaign talk, Mr. Trump will end up presiding over a reduction in the prison population he inherited from Mr. Obama — from 41 to 40 captives.
A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council did not respond to a question asking what the Trump administration would do. But Mr. Kassem said this week that it was in the United States government’s interest to live up to the deal.
“Honoring the agreement with my client and Saudi Arabia would serve the Trump administration’s interests,” Mr. Kassem said. “It would encourage other witnesses to testify for the government in the military commissions and federal court. And it would avoid alienating an important ally.”
He also noted that if the United States did repatriate Mr. Darbi, he would not be released, but would instead serve the remainder of his sentence in a custodial rehabilitation program for low-level Islamist extremists.
The distinction between being transferred and released could be a face-saving way out for the Trump team, said Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who worked on an Obama administration detention policy task force.
“Reneging on this deal would make it significantly harder for military prosecutors to secure plea deals going forward, making it that much less attractive to use the commission system in the first place,” Mr. Chesney said. “Honoring the deal, in contrast, doesn’t have to be seen as inconsistent with his prior complaints; those complaints focused on decisions to transfer or release quite apart from the commissions process.”
Still, Republicans criticized the Obama administration for transferring detainees pursuant to military commission process, too, including a Sudanese man who pleaded guilty before a tribunal and was repatriated when his sentence ended in 2012, only to later join Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch.
Mr. Darbi received no credit for the nearly 12 years he was in custody before his guilty plea, so he would complete his sentence in February 2027. However, the Pentagon official who oversees the commission system may waive the remainder of his sentence after February 2023.
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