The United States has sent two Guantanamo Bay inmates to Ghana for resettlement, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, as the White House seeks to reduce the military prison’s population before President Obama steps down in 2017.
“The United States is grateful to the Government of Ghana for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said.
The transfer brings the total number of prisoners at the top-security facility to 105. That figure includes 46 inmates who have already been approved for settlement overseas but whose release has been held up amid negotiations with potential host countries and, more significantly, by lawmakers’ distaste for prisoner transfers.
It also comes as the White House seeks to reverse abiding opposition in Congress to shuttering the prison, which Obama promised to do on his first day in office. Without support from Capitol Hill, Obama would need to take executive action in order to close the prison, a step that would be sure to incense Republicans.
One of the men sent to the West African nation is Mahmoud Bin Atef, a Yemeni citizen born in Saudi Arabia who has been in U.S. custody for 14 years. According to military documents made public by Wikileaks, Bin Atef traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaeda.
Washington attorney George Clarke, who represents Bin Atef, said his client was nearly killed during a notorious uprising in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif in Nov. 2001.
Clarke described Bin Atef, who officials cleared for transfer in 2009, as a low-level member of the group. “He wasn’t part of any planning,” he said.
The other detainee, Khalid Muhammad Salih al-Dhuby, is another Yemeni citizen born in Saudi Arabia. According to the same military documents, Dhuby trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and may have taken part in the 2001 battle at Tora Bora, in the mountains along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. Many of the allegations in those documents, which are now a decade old, have since been discredited.
Neither Bin Atef or Dhuby was ever charged with a crime.
After more than a decade of isolation, some Guantanamo prisoners have struggled to adjust when they are thrust into an unfamilair culture and environment. Some prisoners are sent to their home countries.
After this week’s transfer, 62 Yemenis remain at the prison.