The Biden administration on Monday has transferred its first detainee held at the notorious U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to his native country of Morocco, the first prisoner released under President Biden.
The Department of Defense announced the transfer of Abdul Latif Nasir back to his native country in a statement early Monday, and thanked Morocco for “its long-time partnership in securing both countries’ national security interests” and noted that the kingdom was supportive of the U.S ongoing “efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.”
The transfer of Nasir, who first arrived at the military prison in May 2002 was recommended for repatriation back in 2016 by the Periodic Review Board, a board that was set up by former President Barack Obama in 2011 under an executive order that would determine whether a prisoner should continue to be held without charge.
In 2016, the board recommended that Nasir was “no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States.” It also assessed that Nasir could be sent back to Morocco “subject to security and human treatment assurances.”
However, Nasir’s release was stalled under former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
According to a senior Biden administration official, the Defense Department notified Congress last month of its intent to repatriate Nasir.
“On June 17th of this year, the Department of Defense notified Congress of its intent to repatriate Mr. Nasir to Morocco, and, in consultation with our Moroccan partners, we have undertaken a responsible transfer. The Biden administration remains dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo facility,” the official told reporters in a call Monday.
Biden revealed in February that he would launch a “formal review” with the National Security Council on the state of Guantanamo Bay, fulfilling a goal once made when he was then-Vice President under Obama in its first year in office to close the facility. However, Obama failed after facing legal and political obstacles from within his administration along with intense opposition from Congress during his eight-year tenure to shutter the military prison. Biden, this time around as President aimed to have the detention fully closed by the end of 2024.
Trump in 2018 signed an executive order to preserve the military prison as a counterterrorism tool and order the detention center to remain open. The order from Trump repealed parts of his predecessor’s 2009 executive order that called for the prison to cease operation. It also directed detention prison operations to continue and permitted additional detainees to be sent to the prison “when lawful and necessary to protect” the United States.
With Nasser’s departure, there are currently now 39 prisoners held in Guantánamo, with 11 of those have been charged with war crimes. The U.S opened the detention center in the aftermath of the Sept 11 terror attacks in Jan. 2002, which housed terrorists who were accused of having ties to Al-Qaida and the Taliban terror groups. At its peak in 2003, the military prison held about 680 detainees, most notoriously holding the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad.
Currently, 17 remaining detainees are eligible for the review board process, while 10 are involved in the military commissions process, with two having been convicted, the senior administration official said.