Five men, each of whom spent more than 11 years detained in the Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial, have been transferred from the U.S. military prison in Cuba to Kazakhstan, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Two of the men—Adel Al-Hakeemy, 49, and Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Lufti, 48—are Tunisian nationals. Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, 46; Mohammed Ali Hussain, 36; and Sabri Muhammed Ibrahim al Qurashi, 44, hail from Yemen. All have been cleared by a national security task force since at least 2009.
Al-Lufti arrived at the prison in 2003 with severe health issues, including heart problems that required a pace-maker. Leaked U.S. military documents show that he was recommended for release in 2004, and it is still not clear why he was incarcerated for another ten years.
Al-Hakeemy is described by the UK-based legal charity Reprieve as a “chef by training who worked at several restaurants in Bologna, Italy.” Reprieve states, “Adel had moved to Pakistan to get married. He and his wife were living in Afghanistan at the time of the 2001 invasion, and Adel was seized and sent to Guantánamo as he fled the war zone. Adel suffered severe beatings during his initial period in U.S. custody, particularly at the U.S. base in Kandahar.”
Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director and al-Hakeemy attorney, said in a statement released Wednesday, “All Adel wants now is to regain his health, see his daughter, and start his life again. We are very encouraged by this wave of releases at the end of 2014, and hope we see more of the dozens of cleared men left in Guantánamo rejoin their families early next year.”
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According to journalist Carol Rosenberg, detained men “typically depart as they arrived—in shackles with blindfolds and ears muffled.” In this instance the transfer got off to a “shaky start,” Rosenberg reports, as the aircraft which was to fly them from the prison on Monday was forced to return due to mechanical problems. The five men successfully departed on Tuesday.
Those released are now “free men,” a senior Obama administration official told the New York Times. The exact terms of the transfer to Kazakhstan were not immediately clear.
The release means that 127 people are still captive in the military prison, which has been slammed for its “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment, including torture. Twenty-eight men were transferred from the prison this year, including four to Afghanistan and six to Uruguay in the month of December, as Obama pledges to speed up the closure of the prison, now nearing its 13th year.
The transfer comes just days after State Department envoy Cliff Sloan, charged with negotiating transfers from Guantanamo, resigned his post, in what was described by the New York Times as “another blow to President Obama’s efforts to close a facility that top administration officials say is a blight on the country’s international standing.”
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“We hope the January 1 departure of State Department Guantánamo envoy Cliff Sloan will not interrupt the momentum of transfers,” said the Center for Constitutional Rights in a statement released Wednesday. “It is imperative that President Obama appoint Sloan’s successor without delay and continue emptying the prison.”