The United States has approved the release of five more prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military facility, although this does not mean they will be leaving the controversial prison anytime soon.
Three of the five detainees are from Yemen, one is from Somalia, and the other is from Kenya, according to documents posted online by the US Defense Department this week.
Collectively, the men have spent 85 years in the prison opened two decades ago for so-called “war on terror” detainees in the wake of the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks.
Of the 39 detainees currently held at the US facility in Cuba, 18 have been approved for release, following case reviews in November and December. These 18 men have not been charged with a crime, the AFP news agency reported.
The five men newly approved for release are: Somali Guleed Hassan Ahmed (also called Guled Hassan Duran); Kenyan Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu; and Omar Muhammad Ali al-Rammah, Moath Hamza al-Alwi, and Suhayl al-Sharabi of Yemen.
Hassan Duran, according to his lawyers, would be the first detainee brought to Guantanamo from a CIA black site to be recommended for release, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The Pentagon’s Periodic Review Board found that all five men did not present, or no longer presented, a threat to the US.
But like others approved for release, their ability to leave the prison could be delayed as Washington seeks arrangements with the detainees’ home countries, or other nations, to accept them.
Currently, the US will not repatriate Yemenis due to the civil war in the country, or Somalis, whose homeland is also mired by conflict.
The release approvals indicated an accelerated effort by the administration of President Joe Biden to resolve the situations of the remaining 39 Guantanamo prisoners, after his predecessor Donald Trump effectively froze action.
Tuesday marked the 20-year anniversary of the opening of the prison, and brought renewed calls from international human rights groups to shut it down. Rights groups accuse the US of arbitrarily detaining hundreds of people in that time, and torturing dozens.
Of the 39 men still held at Guantanamo, 27 have not been charged with a crime, Human Rights Watch reported.
On Monday, a group of UN human rights experts called for Washington to “close this ugly chapter of unrelenting human rights violations”.
Writing on the Lawfare website, US Senator Dianne Feinstein said those detainees facing trial, including September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, could be tried in US civilian courts rather than the secretive and troubled military commissions system.
“Now that the US’s war in Afghanistan is over, it’s time to shut the doors on Guantanamo once and for all,” Feinstein said.
Some of the men still held in the prison, Guantanamo defence attorneys say, have mental health problems that make it hard to present a case for release or arrange a future life in their home countries or elsewhere.
Khalid Ahmed Qasim, whose case was reviewed in December, was denied release even though the Pentagon authorities in charge of the reviews acknowledged that he was not a significant person in al-Qaeda or the Taliban and did not pose a significant threat.
But they indicated that he frequently would not comply with officials at the prison and lacked plans for his future if he was released. The board “encourages the detainee to immediately work toward showing improved compliance and better management of his emotions”, it said.
It also asked his attorneys to produce a plan “regarding how his mental health conditions will be managed if he were to be transferred” out of Guantanamo.
In the 20 years since Guantanamo opened, the US has spent more than $540m annually to detain prisoners there, according to Human Rights Watch.