The United States announced it had transferred two Sudanese detainees from Guantanamo to their home country, its second release this week as President Barack Obama works to close the prison.
Noor Uthman Muhammed, 51, and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris, 52, were the last Sudanese prisoners at the US naval base in Cuba, a US defense official told AFP.
They were both considered by the US military to be members of Al-Qaeda and were sent to Guantanamo in 2002.
Idris, seen by the Pentagon as a veteran member of the terror network who swore loyalty to its late leader Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, was among the first detainees to arrive at Guantanamo Bay on January 11, 2002. Muhammed arrived in May of that year.
In exchange for a guilty plea to terror offenses in February 2011, part of Muhammed’s 14-year sentence was suspended and he completed his term on December 3.
Idris, who had been cleared for transfer since 2009 by an interagency task force, was released following an October court order from the US District Court in Washington.
“As directed by the president’s January 22, 2009, executive order, the task force conducted a comprehensive review of Idris’s case, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, in making that designation,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale said.
It said the Obama administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer both men, as required by law.
“The United States coordinated with the government of Sudan regarding appropriate security measures and to ensure that these transfers are consistent with our humane treatment policy,” Breasseale said in a statement.
The transfers came as Obama accelerates repatriations to meet his campaign promise of closing the prison opened by his predecessor George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to house terror suspects captured around the world.
But activists urged the Obama administration to do more.
“President Obama has made significant progress this year toward closing Guantanamo,” Amnesty International USA security and human rights director Zeke Johnson said in a statement.
“He should keep the momentum going by turning this week’s trickle of transfers into a torrent,” added Johnson, who is at Guantanamo this week to observe pretrial motion proceedings for the five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
“His administration has the authority under current law to do it and half the people still held are cleared to leave.”
In all, 12 Sudanese men have been repatriated, three under Obama and nine under the Bush administration.
On Monday, the Pentagon announced the transfer of two detainees to Saudi Arabia — Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood.
And on December 5, two Algerians were repatriated from Guantanamo, despite the prisoners’ protests they could face persecution there.
A total of 158 prisoners now remain at Guantanamo.
Obama has acknowledged that Guantanamo has hurt the United States’ global standing.
Detainees have complained of mistreatment, and many were held for years without trial while others faced special military tribunals known as military commissions.
Lawmakers are working on measures to ease restrictions on sending detainees home or to third countries, but plans to close the facility have been thwarted by a ban on transferring them to US soil and some allies’ opposition to taking in the terror suspects.