The number of prisoners at the notorious Guantanamo Bay facility is five less than it was last week.
Officials from the Department of Defense announced on Thursday that they released five men, resettling three in Georgia and two in Slovakia. The number of prisoners at Guantanamo is now 143, a far cry from the post-9/11 heyday, when the naval base facility held upwards of 750 prisoners. Eighty-four additional prisoners have been “approved for transfer,” but face excruciatingly slow delays in getting released.
Republicans take unsurprising umbrage at the announcement, a move that they say “puts politics above national security,” according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R- California). “Until we can assure the terrorists stay off the battlefield, they must stay behind bars.”
The administration claims that it is exactly the pursuit of this assurance that is mostly to blame for the long delay in releasing prisoners. They maintain that each case has to be carefully reviewed so as to ensure that no released prisoner will return to terrorism. Human rights organizations, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented one of this week’s released prisoners, contend that Yemenis are particularly prone to exceedingly long delays in release, based on their citizenship. “Such arbitrary detention violates U.S. and international law, including the Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. is obligated to uphold,” the center wrote in a press release.
Of the 143 detainees remaining, 84 are from Yemen, 54 of whom have been approved for transfer, according to CNN.
Even when a return to terrorism is deemed unlikely, the administration cites tremendous difficulties finding countries willing to accept prisoners and resettle them. Congress has forbidden detainees from being resettled on U.S. soil. Oftentimes the prisoners’ home country will not accept them, or the United States fears they will be tortured or abused if repatriated to their native soil. The task has apparently proven so formidable that the State Department has closed the office responsible for repatriating or resettling Gitmo alumni.
With such daunting challenges remaining, it remains unclear whether Obama will be able to fulfill his promise to close the naval facility, which some argue has become— not unlike Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison—a global symbol of aggressive interrogation techniques and dubious compliance with international law.
Ian Moss, a State Department official, told the New York Times that he doesn’t have “a timeline” on when releases will actually occur, but “the administration is committed to reducing the detainee population and to closing the detention facility responsibly.”