PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Tajik and a Yemeni national each held for roughly 14 years at Guantanamo Bay have been freed and sent to the Balkan nation of Serbia, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Monday.
The Pentagon said the two men were released from the U.S. base in Cuba after comprehensive security reviews. It identified the Yemeni as Mansur Ahmad Saad al-Dayfi and the Tajik as Muhammadi Davlatov.
The latest detainee releases come amid a renewed push by the Obama administration to whittle down the number of men held at the U.S. base in Cuba. On Sunday, another Yemeni prisoner was released and sent to Italy after more than 14 years in custody.
The Monday transfers leave 76 prisoners at Guantanamo's detention center, which was opened in January 2002 to hold foreign fighters suspected of links to the Taliban or the al-Qaida terrorist organization. Some two dozen low-level prisoners are expected to be sent home or resettled in other countries in coming weeks.
President Barack Obama has been seeking to close the detention center amid opposition from Congress, which has prohibited transferring detainees to the U.S. for any reason. The administration has been working with other countries to resettle detainees who have been cleared for transfer.
Lee Wolosky, the U.S. State Department's special envoy for Guantanamo's closure, said Washington is grateful to Serbia for accepting the two men. These are the first detainee transfers to that country.
"Serbia now joins other friends and allies in Europe in accepting multiple detainees for resettlement, bringing us closer to our shared goal of closing the facility," Wolosky said in an email.
Officials say that before any detainee is transferred, the State Department obtains security assurances from the receiving country. Defense officials, with the intelligence community, also review the receiving nation's ability to mitigate any possible threat.
The two men's Pentagon profiles released years ago both asserted they were of high intelligence value and were "likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests, and allies." But they were never charged with a crime, and authorities ultimately decided they did not pose a security threat and could be freed.
The State Department said Monday that both detainees were unanimously approved for transfer by six U.S. government departments and agencies.
The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said Davlatov had filed a habeas corpus petition a decade ago challenging the legality of his capture and detention. He been approved for release and was slated to be released to Tajikstan in 2008. However, he obtained a preliminary court injunction against his transfer there due to his arguments that he faced a serious risk of torture or unjust imprisonment there.
In a Monday statement, the Center blasted the Obama administration for making "no meaningful efforts to transfer him" for years. He "never should have been brought to Guantanamo, and by the government's own admission he should have been released six years ago," said attorney J. Wells Dixon.
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