5 Guantanamo detainees cleared for release as prison marks 20 years

Two detainees who have been at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than a decade have been cleared for release, according to public documents.

By Ellie Kaufman, CNN

(CNN) -- Five detainees who have been at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than a decade have been cleared for release, according to public documents. The decisions come as the prison marked 20 years this week since it was opened under the George W. Bush administration, a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

President Joe Biden has said publicly that he wants to close the detention facility, and the National Security Council is undergoing a review of the facility "to determine the way forward," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a news briefing on Monday. The prison is notorious for human rights abuses that occurred there when prisoners were tortured under the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" program.

The Periodic Review Board, a government entity established during the Obama administration to determine whether detainees at the facility were guilty, announced the decisions in filings posted to its website.

The board cleared five detainees for release including three Yemenis, Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah, Suhayl Abdul Anam al Sharabi, one Kenyan Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, and one Somalian Guled Hassan Duran. The three Yemenis and the Kenyan all were never charged with crimes but were held as "law of war" detainees.

The three Yemenis who have now been cleared for release have been held at Guantanamo since the early 2000s. Al-Rammah has been held at Guantanamo since May 2003 and was accused of "becoming a facilitator for al-Qa'ida-affiliated extremist groups in the late 1990s," according to Department of Defense documents. Al Sharabi and al-Alwi has been at Guantanamo since 2002, according to DoD documents.

Duran, who has been in US custody since 2004 and has been held at the Guantanamo prison since 2006, was held as a high-level detainee, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents him. He is the first high-level detainee to be cleared by the Periodic Review Board, his attorney Shane Kadidal told CNN.

With these, 18 detainees have now been cleared for transfer by the Periodic Review Board and are eligible for release, pending diplomatic arrangements. Once a detainee is cleared for release, he cannot leave the prison until the US government works out a diplomatic arrangement with another country for them to be released to.

Thirty-nine detainees remain at the prison, according to Kirby. All the detainees who are eligible for transfer out of the prison have undergone a review by the Periodic Review Board since the start of the Biden administration, Kirby added.

For those detainees who have been cleared for release, "the diplomatic process is underway to work to transfer or repatriate them as appropriate," Kirby said.

Bajabu has been detained since 2007, Mark Maher, a staff attorney for the human rights group Reprieve US who represents him, told CNN. According to Department of Defense filings, Bajabu was a facilitator for al Qaeda in East Africa before he was detained. He was never charged with any crimes.

The Periodic Review Board noted that its decision to clear Bajabu for release was based on his "low level of training and lack of leadership role in his pre-detention activities."

"Today's decision is wonderful news for Abdul Malik, who has been unjustly detained for 15 years without charge or trial," Maher told CNN. "He longs to be reunited with his family, and we hope the Biden administration will ensure his release happens quickly."

Duran, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2006, was accused of supporting and serving as a "key member" of al Qaeda in East Africa's network in Somalia, according to Defense Department documents.

Duran testified in publicly available court documents that he had been tortured when he was held at a CIA-operated black site after first being taken into US custody. He described hours of interrogation with sleep deprivation, little food or water and sexual abuse from interrogators.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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