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Biden’s Pentagon transfers first detainee from Guantanamo Bay

POLITICO logo POLITICO 7/19/2021 By Quint Forgey
a close up of a wire fence: The control tower is seen through the razor wire inside the Camp VI detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. © Alex Brandon/AP Photo The control tower is seen through the razor wire inside the Camp VI detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

President Joe Biden’s Defense Department on Monday announced the transfer of its first detainee from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — the opening step of what could be a complete shutdown of the controversial facility long pledged by Democratic administrations.

Abdul Latif Nasir was repatriated to his native country of Morocco on Monday morning, according to the Pentagon, after the Periodic Review Board process determined in 2016 that his detention at Guantanamo Bay “no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat” to U.S. national security.

Although the board had recommended that Nasir “be authorized for repatriation” to Morocco a half-decade ago, “the steps necessary to effectuate the repatriation were unable to be completed prior to the end of the Obama administration,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“The United States commends the Kingdom of Morocco for its long-time partnership in securing both countries’ national security interests,” the Pentagon said. “The United States is also extremely grateful for the Kingdom’s willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.”

The Defense Department notified Congress of its intent to repatriate Nasir last month, a senior administration official told reporters in a call on Monday. “The Biden administration remains dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo facility,” the official said.

Former President Donald Trump in 2018 ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison to remain open, directing detention operations to continue and permitting additional detainees to be sent to the prison “when lawful and necessary to protect” the country. His initiative repealed part of an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama in 2009 that called for the prison to cease operation.


Video: Biden administration transfers first detainee out of Guantanamo Bay, 39 prisoners remain (NBC News)

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In February, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Biden’s support for shuttering the prison and said the administration had launched a “robust, inter-agency process” with the National Security Council that aimed for a full closure by the end of the president’s term in 2024.

Established by former President George W. Bush in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the prison has been frequently criticized for alleged human rights abuses, including extrajudicial detentions and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Today, it holds 39 detainees, according to the Pentagon.

Of the remaining detainees, 10 have been recommended for transfer by the Periodic Review Board, and “the administration is very much focused on looking to pursue transfer,” the senior administration official said, declining to elaborate further.

“I want to underscore that, as we’ve demonstrated today, the Biden administration will apply all the necessary diplomatic resources to facilitate the transfer of detainees found eligible,” the official said, adding that the State Department was taking the lead on the diplomatic negotiations meant to promote repatriations.

The Periodic Review Board process was established by an executive order signed by Obama in 2011. The panel itself consists of one senior career official from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, as well as from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Another 17 remaining detainees are eligible for the review board process, while 10 are involved in the military commissions process, and two have been convicted, according to a second senior administration official.

On Monday, the White House did not specify when the 10 detainees recommended for transfer from the prison could be repatriated.

“I don’t have a timeline for you,” Psaki told reporters. “As you know, there’s a process. They’re in different layers of the process. But that remains our goal. And we are considering all available avenues to responsibly transfer detainees and, of course, close Guantanamo Bay.”

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