Four Afghans held for more than a decade at Guantanamo Bay detention facility have been returned to their home country, the Pentagon has said.
The Department of Defence said on Saturday that the men – Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani, and Mohammed Zahir – had been moved from the US detention facility in Cuba after a comprehensive review of their case.
“As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, these men were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force,” a Pentagon statement said.
As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, these men were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force
The US embassy in Kabul said in a statement that it had “full confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to mitigate any threats these individuals may pose and to ensure that they are given humane treatment”.
The transfer “demonstrates Afghan sovereignty and US trust in the strength of Afghan government institutions”, according to the statement.
The releases come hard on the heels of the transfer of six Guantanamo detainees to Uruguay earlier this month.
In Kabul, Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, the government-created body set up to strengthen relations with armed rebels, welcomed the release. The council also requested the repatriation of the eight Afghans who are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.
All four men would be reunited with their families in the “near future”, the council said.
The four men, in their 40s or early 50s, were arrested in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2003 for alleged ties to the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
However, lawyers have long argued that the evidence against the men is threadbare.
A defence lawyer for Abdul Ghani, detained in Kandahar in December 2002, has said the Afghan was simply a farmer arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Lawyers for Shawali Khan, who was handed over to US forces by Afghan warlords in November 2002, complained he had been held on the basis of uncorroborated evidence of a single informant.
President Barack Obama has vowed to close Guantanamo Bay, set up to house detainees captured following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But the president’s efforts have been hampered by a combination of opposition from Congress and the difficulties involved in finding homes for prisoners who are often unwanted by their home states and/or suspected of involvement in terrorism.
Of the 132 detainees left at Guantanamo, 63 have been cleared for release by the US administration.
Of the men who have not been cleared for release, some 15 are classified as “high value” detainees.
These include alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Indonesian national Riduan Isamuddin or Hambali, often described as “the Osama Bin Laden of Southeast Asia”, who was arrested in Thailand in 2003.