A U.S. government review panel authorized the release of five men detained at Guantanamo Bay, as the prison marks 20 years in operation.
The five prisoners – three Yemenis, one Somalian and one Kenyan – are unlikely to be released any time soon, however, as the Biden administration works to find a nation willing to host them.
None of the men approved for release have been charged with a crime; they’ve been held as ‘law of war’ detainees, or prisoners of the war on terrorism.
Approved for transfer are Yemenis Moath al-Alwi, Zuhail al-Sharabi and Omar al-Rammah, Kenyan Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu and Guled Hassan Duran of Somalia, according to the New York Times. All are in their 40s.
Duran was the first ‘high value’ prisoner approved for transfer, with security measures, as he was the first detainee brought from a CIA black site to be approved for release.
Captured in 2004 on alleged involvement with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Duran cannot return to his home country due to a congressional prohibition on the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Kenyan Bajabu was arrested in 2007 for a suspected role in the 2002 car bombing in his homeland that killed 13 people at the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel.
A U.S. government review panel authorized the release of five men detained at Guantanamo Bay, as the prison marks 20 years in operation
The five prisoners – three Yemenis, one Somalian and one Kenyan – are unlikely to be released any time soon, however, as the Biden administration works to find a nation willing to host them
About 800 prisoners, each of whose care and detention costs tens of millions per year, have passed through Guantanamo, many without ever being charged with a crime
Alwi, perhaps the best-known of the five men, was considered by the board to be a low-level trainee with no leadership role in al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
In 2018, replicas of ships Alwi built from objects in his prison cellblock were featured in a New York art show. Shortly after, the Defense Department declared prisoners’ art property of the U.S. government and prohibited detainees from giving pieces to their lawyers or anyone else, according to the Times. Prison guards also stopped showcasing the art on news media visits.
Half of the prison’s 39 detainees have been approved for transfer so far, 12 have been charged with war crimes and two have been convicted.
But only one detainee has officially been transferred – a Moroccan man whose repatriation negotiations began under Obama and were not completed until last July.
Among those still awaiting trial is alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Victims of the attack have been waiting patiently for his death penalty trial for two decades. Pre-trial hearings were originally scheduled for this week but put off again due to coronavirus.
Biden made clear on the campaign trail that he wanted to shut down Guantanamo, but weeks ago instead approved millions in upgrades to the facility. A new ‘secret’ courtroom at Guantanamo should cost taxpayers about $4 million.
About 800 prisoners, each of whose care and detention costs tens of millions per year, have passed through Guantanamo, many without ever being charged with a crime.
The cost of Guantanamo has bloated over the past two decades, so that by the time former President Trump took office the U.S. was spending $13 million per year, per prisoner, according to Lee Wolosky, Obama’s Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure.
That’s compared to $78,000 spent per inmate at a ‘super-max’ prison in Florence, Colo., home to some of the highest-risk prisoners in the U.S.
For the 39 detainees currently held there, that’s at least $507 million dollars per year.
A 2013 Defense Department report calculated the per-prisoner detention cost at only $2.7 million at the time.
In recent years, officials at Guantanamo have forbidden photography of sites that were once routinely shown to visitors and restricted access for reporters to prison facilities.
President Obama, too, tried to close Guantanamo, but ran up against opposition in Congress where lawmakers passed a law that prohibited any detainees held on the island off Cuba to be transferred to the U.S. mainland.
About 770 men and boys have been held at Guantanamo as war prisoners, with prison population peaking at 677 in 2003.
The Bush administration, which opened the prison after 9/11, released 540 detainees, mostly repatriating them back to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration released another 200. Trump placed an effective hold on releases.