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Two Guantanamo detainees from Yemen win release

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Notorious US military prison in Guantanamo Bay

Two inmates held for over 17 years without charges at notorious US military prison in Guantanamo Bay have won their release, according to newly published Pentagon filings on their cases.

Ali al-Hajj al-Sharqawi and Abd Al Salam Al Hilal, both of them from Yemen, were detained in 2002 as the United States launched "war on terror" following al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001 attacks on US soil.

The two were transferred to Guantanamo in 2004, with records showing Sharqawi had undergone torture while being interrogated by the CIA after he was detained in Pakistan.

Sharqawi (named as Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj in Guantanamo records), 47, has never faced charges in in military tribunals set up for Guantanamo prisoners.

He had been accused of being a high-level facilitator for al-Qaeda, helping to move money and fighters across the Middle East and recruiting bodyguards for al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

Al Hilal, 49,  also has never been charged. The former Yemeni government official was detained by Egyptian authorities in Cairo in 2002 and was then apparently handed over to the Americans.

The decision to release the two Yemeni inmates came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the United States’ human rights record for maintaining Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA prisons around the world without any standing in international or US law.

Documents released by the Pentagon's Periodic Review Board, which regularly assesses the cases of the detainees at Guantanamo, showed the two inmates had been approved for release on June 8.

"The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States," filings on both men's cases said.

The two Yemeni inmates are among 40 prisoners still at Guantanamo, nearly two decades after it began taking in detainees following the 9/11 attacks.

Once numbering around 780, most have been released back to their home countries or to third countries without ever having been charged.

US President Joe Biden has vowed to shut down the Guantanamo military prison and either free or transfer the remaining 40 inmates held without charges or trials. 

Biden's former boss Barack Obama had also pledged during his 2008 presidential campaign to close the military prison, but failed to fulfill his promise in the face of stiff opposition from the Congress.

In a speech in December 2016, Obama expressed disappointment over failure to close the prison during his term in office, saying it was a disgrace and a waste of money.

Trump, however, said in January 2018 that he had signed a new executive order to keep Guantanamo open indefinitely.

A Senate report in December 2014 revealed that the CIA had used a wide array of sexual abuse and other forms of torture as part of its interrogation methods against prisoners at Guantanamo.

The total cost of running the Guantanamo detention facility in 2018 was at least $540 million, according to a 2020 US media report.

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