The Defense Department announced yesterday that it had released three captives from the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are no longer considered threats to the United States, the first time it has freed prisoners cleared through its administrative review board.
The three men were among seven foreign nationals released by the government, the Pentagon said, adding that officials had also transferred a detainee to the custody of Spain after an agreement brokered by the U.S. State Department.
Spain has identified that detainee as Lahcen Ikassrien, of Morocco. A Spanish judge has been seeking to have him transferred to Spain since late 2003 on suspicion that he was part of an al Qaeda cell that operated there and had links to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
Ikassrien, who has not been charged with a crime by U.S. authorities, left evidence in Spain linking him to terrorist crimes, according to Spanish officials.
Of the seven detainees who were freed, three were released to Saudi Arabia, two were returned to Afghanistan, one to Sudan and one to Jordan. They were the first detainees to leave custody of the U.S. military prison since April. A Pentagon spokesman said he could not say how long each detainee had been held at Guantanamo Bay.
Most notably, three of the detainees had been cleared by a U.S. military Administrative Review Board (ARB), which evaluates whether a prisoner still poses a threat to the United States or its allies. The two detainees released to Afghanistan and one of the detainees released to Saudi Arabia are part of the first group to be approved through that process to be given their freedom.
Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England approved four such detainees for release on July 8 and they were subsequently released, a Pentagon official said. The fourth detainee cleared by the board remains at Guantanamo while officials work on the details of his departure, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman.
There have been 162 ARB hearings, and England has made decisions in 70 cases. Aside from the four detainees designated for release, 25 are scheduled to be transferred to another country's government and 41 will remain in custody at Guantanamo Bay.
Three of the seven detainees released were found not to be enemy combatants by a separate Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), making them part of a relatively small group -- 38 detainees -- whose enemy status has been reviewed at Guantanamo Bay and who have been cleared. One of the detainees was released to Sudan, one to Saudi Arabia, and one to Jordan. To date, 558 detainees have received CSRT hearings; 520 have been deemed to be enemy combatants.
Another detainee was released to Saudi Arabia under a previous review process called "section one" review, Plexico said.
The Guantanamo Bay prison has about 510 detainees, according to Pentagon officials, and U.S. authorities now have transferred or released 242 detainees from the facility since it opened in January 2002.
The two Afghan detainees who were released this week said that about 180 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are staging a hunger strike that has lasted more than two weeks, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.