WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military has sent 14 Saudi nationals home from Guantanamo Bay, bringing the number of prisoners atits war-on-terror detention center to “approximately 450,” the Pentagon has announced.
The announcement said one of the Saudis, whose name was not released, had been found by a special military tribunal to no longer be an enemy combatant, while the remaining 13 “were approved for transfer by an administrative review board decision.”
The move comes after two Saudis and one Yemeni committed suicide in the renowned detention camp created in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold terror suspects captured by US troops in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi and Yassar Talal al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Ali Abdullah Ahmed of Yemen were found in their cells on June 10 apparently after hanging themselves with cords fashioned from clothes and bedding.
They were the first detainees to die in Guantanamo since the detention center opened there in early 2003.
About 120 detainees still at the detention center are eligible for transfer or release through a military-run review process, according to the US military.
“Departure of these remaining detainees approved for transfer or release is subject to ongoing discussions between the United States and other nations,” the Defense Department said. “The department expects that there will continue to be other transfers or releases of detainees.”
Approximately 310 detainees have now left Guantanamo and been handed over to other governments including Albania, Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Britain, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden and Uganda, the statement said.
The Supreme Court may rule before the end of the month on the legality of the special tribunals set up by the Pentagon to try the detainees suspected on involvement in terrorist activity.
Continued detention of hundreds of foreign nationals at the US naval base without trial has prompted many politicians in Europe an elsewhere to call for the closing of the detention camp.
Last month, British Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith publicly called the detention center “unacceptable,” adding that to many people it had become “a symbol … of injustice.”
US President George W. Bush faced persistent calls for Guantanamo’s closure during his visit to Europe this past week, but declined to give a specific commitment.
“I would like to end Guantanamo,” he told a press conference Wednesday in the Austrian capital Vienna, after a summit with European Union leaders.
But he cautioned that a way must first be found to send inmates at the US outpost in Cuba back home — mainly Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen — or bring them to court.
The issue is set to be further inflamed in coming weeks following Friday’s release in the United States of “The Road to Guantanamo,” a part-documentary, part-fiction British film that details the ordeal of three Muslim men from Britain seized in Afghanistan on their way to a wedding shortly after September 11, 2001.
The men, Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, were captured by Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance and turned over to US troops that invaded the country to oust its Taliban government and hunt down Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his allies.
The film chronicles the alleged abuse and mistreatment suffered by the three in Guantanamo. They were eventually released without ever hearing charges against them.
“We hope this film will stir the American public to call for an end to the torture and abuse of detainees and restore faith in America’s commitment to human rights,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who attended an advance screening of “The Road to Guantanamo” in New York Thursday.