The U.S. Department of Defense announced Wednesday the transfer of a Yemeni man from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the government of Montenegro after 14 years of imprisonment.
Abdel Malik Ahmed Abdel Wahab Al Rahabi, 37, was brought to Guantanamo in January 2002 and had been accused of being a bodyguard for the then-al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was cleared for release in December 2014 after an intensive security review.
As the President Barack Obama’s administration does not send Guantanamo prisoners back to Yemen because of the civil war, the government had to find another country to accept him for resettlement.
“The United States is grateful to the Government of Montenegro for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“The United States coordinated with the Government of Montenegro to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” it said.
Al Rahabi is the second prisoner to be resettled in Montenegro this year as Obama tries to reduce the number of men held at Guantanamo, Cuba. This marked the start of what is expected to be a new round of releases from the U.S. base even as the Congress continues to prevent the closure of the detention center with a prohibition on transferring prisoners to the United States.
Obama’s attempt at closing Guantanamo prison calls for speeding up transfers and bringing several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States and he has not ruled out doing so by use of executive action, Reuters reported.
There now remain 79 prisoners at Guantanamo. Twenty-nine of these have been cleared to be sent home or to other countries for resettlement.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that officials expect to release most of those cleared in the coming weeks, leaving mostly men who have been charged or convicted by military commission for war crimes or those who are believed to be too dangerous to release by the authorities.
Al Rahabi’s lawyer David Remes, who has represented more than two dozen prisoners at Guantanamo over the years, said: “He’s been waiting for this for a long time.”
He told the AP that there has been a notable sense of relief among the men he has met with at the base in recent weeks.
“It’s no longer a question of whether, or even a question of when, it’s a question of how soon,” Remes said.
The facility was opened by George W. Bush and has come to symbolize aggressive detention practices and torture.