The White House announced Thursday that two detainees left the prison at Guantanamo Bay for Algeria, they were the first to be transferred from custody in nearly a year.
The two men, Nabil Hadjarab, 34, and Motai Sayab, 37, had been in custody for more than eleven years and were cleared to leave the prison by an Obama administration task force. The military had recommended they be released in 2007. There are still 84 men at the facility in Cuba who have been cleared for release or transfer. Currently, there are 164 men being held at Guantanamo.
“The United States is grateful to the Government of Algeria for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” A Department of Defense statement said. “The United States coordinated with the Government of Algeria to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.
The repatriation is President Obama’s latest small step towards closing the notorious detention center since he renewed his campaign promise to close the prison in a May 23 national security speech. Obama has appointed Clifford Sloan to work from the State Department to arrange prisoner transfers, although he has yet to fill a corresponding position at the Pentagon.
Hadjarab and Sayab were certified for release using powers granted by the National Defense Authorization Act, despite the president’s insistence that congressional opposition prevented him from taking meaningful action to reduce Guantanamo’s prisoner population. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel notified Congress of the Pentagon’s intent to transfer the two men at the end of July.
There is little information about what will happen to Hadjarab and Sayab once they reach Algeria. Sayab’s lawyer, Buz Eisenberg, told the Miami Herald that the government normally holds men for questioning for 12 days before sending them home. Despite being an Algerian national, Hadjarab does not have a home in Algeria to return to. He was raised in France, where his family still lives, but cannot reunite with them.
The fate of the remaining cleared detainees is still uncertain. The majority of them, 56, are Yemeni nationals, and the administration has long cited security concerns as a reason for continuing to hold them.
The hunger strike against demeaning conditions at the prison and continuing detention, while diminished, has continued. As of Thursday, 36 men were listed as striking, 32 of whom are being force-fed through tubes inserted through their noses.