Eighteen detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were released yesterday, the Defense Department announced, marking the largest number of captives released from the facility at one time since last September.
Seventeen detainees were returned to Afghanistan, and one was sent home to Turkey. All will be released, defense officials said. The detainees had been through tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, where it was determined that they are no longer enemy combatants. Officials would not discuss any additional details about the detainees or their cases.
The release brings the total number of detainees to leave Guantanamo Bay to 232; 167 have been sent home and released, while 65 others have been transferred to the custody of foreign governments including Pakistan, Britain, Morocco, France, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The release this week was the fifth largest since 2002 and the largest since 35 detainees left Guantanamo Bay in September. Only 10 detainees have been moved into the prison for alleged al Qaeda and Taliban fighters since November 2003. All of them arrived at the same time in September.
Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that the government is working out arrangements with home countries of another 15 detainees who also have been determined not to be enemy combatants. Plexico said arranging transfers with foreign governments can take time, but plans are being developed to send the 15 detainees home.
"Once they are found to no longer be an enemy combatant, we try to move them as soon as possible," Plexico said. "The Department of Defense wants to release detainees who are no longer determined to be enemy combatants."
Guantanamo Bay, slated to be the central holding point for people captured in the U.S. global war on terrorism when it opened in early 2002, continues to hold approximately 520 detainees who have been determined to be enemy combatants at "combatant status review tribunals." Those detainees are scheduled to receive annual reviews to evaluate whether they continue to pose a threat to the United States and its allies, whether they still have intelligence value and whether they would be eligible for prosecution under war crimes laws.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.