Four Afghan detainees were transferred from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense said Saturday, the first transfer of prisoners to the Middle Eastern country since 2009.
The prisoners released were Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir, according to the Pentagon. The Guantanamo Review Task Force reviewed the case and unanimously approved the transfer of the detainees, and Congress was notified of the move. "These guys, at worst, could be described as low level but that's even a stretch," a senior administration official told NBC News. The detainees left Guantanamo Friday morning and landed in Afghanistan later in the day, according to the official.
Currently 132 people remain imprisoned at Guantanamo -- 64 are approved for transfer, while 68 are not. Many of the prison's inmates have not been charged with a crime. More detainees are set to be transferred in the coming weeks, the official said.
Saturday's detainee transfer comes just days after the U.S. moved to normalize diplomatic relationships with Cuba, where Guantanamo is located. The U.S. has also accelerated the pace with which it has transferred Gitmo prisoners. Six prisoners were sent to Uruguay earlier this month. And late last month, five more detainees were released, according to the Defense Department.
"The United States is grateful to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Pentagon said in a statement Saturday.
President Obama pledged early in his time in office to close the prison at Guantanamo, but despite recent progress, the White House has made little headway on the issue. Still, the administration is reportedly considering moves to sidestep Congress and ultimately disband the facility.
"This repatriation reflects the Defense Department's continued commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo in a responsible manner," Paul Lewis, the Pentagon's special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, said in a statement Saturday.
The movement of the four detainees comes less than two weeks after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report exposing the brutal interrogation tactics used by the CIA on detained terror suspects. “It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured," Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee chair, said in an introduction to the report.