Yesterday I wrote about the man that is the alleged leader, Abu Sufian bin Qumu. behind the Libyan attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. He was formerly held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now Barack Obama is set to release 55 Gitmo prisoners into Libyan custody.
According to a list that was made public by the Obama administration, most of those to be released are from Yemen.
Since 2009, the U.S. Government has kept under wraps the list of detainees approved for release. In a court filing back then (posted here), the State Department’s envoy for Guantanamo, Ambassador Daniel Fried, cited a need to coordinate diplomatic efforts to resettle the war-on-terror prisoners.
However, in the new court filings Friday, Justice Department lawyers said that need no longer merited keeping the list secret. They didn’t quite concede that the resettlement process has stalled, but that was the implication. Congress has also greatly complicated releases from Guantanamo with a series of legislative measures attached to budget bills that Obama signed into law.
“In the over two years since the [Guantanamo Bay Review] Task Force completed its status reviews, circumstances have changed such that the decisions by the Task Force approving detainees for transfer no longer warrant protection,” the DOJ lawyers wrote in their notice to the court (posted here).
“The efforts of the United States to resettle Guantanamo detainees have largely been successful – they have resulted in 40 detainees being resettled in third countries because of treatment or other concerns in their countries of origin since 2009. In addition, 28 detainees have been repatriated to their countries of origin since 2009. Consequently, the diplomatic and national security harms identified [by Fried in a 2009 court filing] are no longer as acute. In Respondents’ view, there is no longer a need to withhold from the public the status of detainees who have been approved for transfer.”
The release of the Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo was planned in 2010, but it appears the Obama administration was unwilling to do so because it considered the conditions of the country to be too “unsettled” at the time.
Remember, one of Barack Obama’s promises was to close Gitmo. Could this be the opportunity he has waited for? One thing is for sure, in the wake of the Libyan attacks, this seems to be a very poor move on his part.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also advocated the close of Guantanamo Bay. ACLU attorney Zachary Katznelson said, “These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released.”
Today, just weeks after the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the information, the government released the names of 55 of the prisoners approved for transfer from the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoners were unanimously designated for transfer by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Bay Review Task Force, which announced a summary of its findings in January 2010. But before today, the government had said the list could not be released because doing so would hamper efforts to repatriate and resettle prisoners in other countries.
Today’s release is a partial victory for transparency, and it should also be a spur to action. These men have now spent three years in prison since our military and intelligence agencies all agreed they should be released.
Not on the list, of course, is Adnan Latif, who died in his cell earlier this month despite having been repeatedly approved for release from Guantánamo.
It is well past time for our government to release and resettle these unfairly imprisoned men.