Obama releases 5 more Guantanamo Bay prisoners
The Defense Department announced Wednesday that five more prisoners will be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay to another nation, in the latest step by the Obama administration to whittle down the prisoner population in pursuit of ultimately closing the camp.
The five men will be transferred to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan for resettlement, the U.S. government announced.
The two men from Tunisia and three from Yemen — who have been at the camp for a dozen years — had been cleared for release from the prison by a government task force but could not be sent to their homelands. The U.S. has sent hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo to third countries but this is the first time Kazakhstan has accepted any for resettlement.
Their release brings the prison population at Guantanamo to 127, according to a Pentagon statement on Tuesday.
The transfer appears to be the latest step in the administration’s strategy to rapidly bring down the prison population at Guantanamo, potentially to under 100, so that the White House can make a more aggressive argument to Congress that the camp should be closed. Congress continues to block Guantanamo prisoners from being brought for detention on the U.S. mainland.
Many vocal critics of the administration’s push to close the camp, though, have not backed off their concerns. And the accelerated prisoner transfers have raised additional security concerns.
All the prisoners being transferred to Kazakhstan had been captured in Pakistan and turned over to the U.S. for detention as suspected Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda.
The U.S. identified the Yemenis as Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, who is about 46; Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, who is about 36; and Sabri Mohammad al Qurashi, about 44.
According to a 2007 Defense document, posted on The New York Times website, Al-Khalaqi was “assessed” to be part of Al Qaeda and was captured alongside an Al Qaeda commander at Tora Bora.
Al Qurashi, likewise, allegedly got “militant training” at an Al Qaeda training camp and was arrested at an Al Qaeda safe house. Both were assessed to be “medium risk.”
The U.S. identified the Tunisians as 49-year-old Adel Al-Hakeemy, and Abdallah Bin Ali al Lufti, who military records show is about 48.
None of the men were ever charged and a government task force determined it was no longer necessary to hold them.
The U.S. does not say why they could not be sent home but the government has been unwilling to send Yemenis to their country because of unrest and militant activity there while in the past some Tunisians have feared persecution.
Nearly 30 prisoners have been resettled in third countries this year as part of Obama’s renewed push to close the detention center over opposition from Congress. Earlier this month, four Afghan detainees were returned to their home country.
The Washington Post reported that the administration plans to “significantly reduce” the camp’s population over the next six months by transferring prisoners out. Officials reportedly are hoping other nations will accept the roughly 60 prisoners approved for transfer.