WASHINGTON – Two Yemeni men held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba since 2004 have been cleared for transfer to another country, a U.S. review board determined last week, bringing the prison back into the spotlight.
Abd al-Salam al-Hilah and Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj were both cleared for transfer as President Joe Biden’s administration has revived a goal of closing the prison that came to symbolize the excesses of the U.S. “war on terror.”
The United States now must seek to find countries willing to take the detainees.
Al-Hajj is a career jihadist who acted as a prominent financial and travel facilitator for al-Qaeda members before and after the 9/11 attacks, according to his detainee profile on the website of the Periodic Review Board, an interagency U.S. government group.
Al-Hilah entered into extremist circles at a young age and rose to be a prominent extremist facilitator, according to his profile. He has expressed continued support for extremists and terrorist groups, including Islamic State, the profile said.
“The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” according to statements on the separate decisions.
Set up to house foreign suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. military prison has held about 800 detainees during its history. Now, only about 40 remain, most held for nearly two decades without being charged or tried.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month said the Biden administration is “actively looking” into recreating the position of a State Department envoy for the closure of the Guantanamo prison.
Upon taking office in 2009, then-President Barack Obama ordered the detention operation at Guantanamo closed by January 2010 but missed the deadline, partly because Congress imposed tough restrictions on prisoner transfers, including a ban on bringing them to prisons on the U.S. mainland.
Former President Donald Trump signed an order in 2018 to keep the detention center open. He transferred one prisoner to Saudi Arabia.