US repatriation of Guantanamo inmate spurs hopes facility could close

Transfer of Moroccan national by Biden administration a first since Trump era pause

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed that it is the intention of the Biden administration to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp after an inmate was transferred out of the facility for the first time since 2017. Video: C-Span

 

The United States has transferred an inmate at Guantanamo Bay to Morocco, the first such transfer of the Biden administration, after former president Donald Trump halted all resettlements in 2017.

The Moroccan national, Abdul Latif Nasser, was transferred to the custody of Moroccan officials on Monday morning. He was sent to Guantanamo in 2002 and had been cleared for repatriation in 2016, but his transfer was put on hold during the Trump presidency. The announcement has spurred hopes that the US could accelerate the process of closing the facility that was set up in the wake of the September 11th attacks of 2001.

A total of 39 detainees now remain at Guantanamo Bay, and officials said that 10 were eligible for transfer. A further 17 are under consideration for release by the periodic review board, a multi-agency board established by then president Barack Obama to consider whether prisoners remained a security threat to the United States.

The Pentagon thanked Morocco for its “willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility”.

Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since May 2002. Photograph: International Red Cross via The New York Times
Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since May 2002. Photograph: International Red Cross via The New York Times

Morocco’s general prosecutor said Nasser would face investigation. The inmate, now 56, was detained by US forces in Afghanistan in 2002 and transferred to the Guantanamo site.

Mr Obama pledged to close down the facility in the first year of his presidency, but his efforts were stymied by resistance from Republicans in Congress. Nonetheless the number of detainees at the prison gradually reduced during the Obama years, though his successor Donald Trump halted releases from the prison during his four years in office.

Slim majority

The release of the Moroccan national is the latest indication that Mr Biden is seeking to finally shut down the prison.

However, though Democrats now control both houses of Congress, their majority is slim and it is unclear if Mr Biden will have enough support to completely close the prison.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, a senior administration official said the focus of the Biden administration was on “responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo facility”, in a way that would also safeguard the United States and its allies.

The Guantanamo Bay prison camp on the southern tip of Cuba was set up by then president George W Bush in 2002. It became a symbol of injustice and US overreach after it became synonymous with torture, detention without trial and other human rights abuses during the US’s “war on terror”.

The population at the prison peaked at close to 800.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken said last month that he was actively considering reviving the post of a special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.  

Separately, the first prison sentence has been handed down in connection with the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th. Paul Hodgkins (38) from Florida was sentenced to eight months in prison and ordered to may $2,000 for damage, having pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding earlier this year.

“Although Mr Hodgkins was only one member of a larger mob, he actively and intentionally participated in an event that threatened not only the security of the Capitol but democracy itself,” Judge Randolph Moss said as he imposed the sentence. “That is chilling, for many reasons.”