The Biden administration has transferred its first detainee out of Guantánamo Bay, leaving 39 prisoners at the facility on the American base in Cuba.
The Department of Defense announced the transfer of Abdul Latif Nasir to his native Morocco in a statement early Monday.
In 2016, under then-President Barack Obama, a review board determined that Nasir’s detention was no longer necessary to protect against “a continuing significant threat” to the national security of the United States, according to the statement.
The board recommended that Nasir be repatriated but the transfer was not completed by the end of the Obama administration. Nasir was also not repatriated under former President Donald Trump.
“The United States commends the Kingdom of Morocco for its long-time partnership in securing both countries’ national security interests,” the statement said.
“The United States is also extremely grateful for the Kingdom’s willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that Morocco’s facilitation of Nasir’s repatriation, alongside its past willingness to return its foreign terrorist fighters from northeast Syria, should encourage other nations to repatriate their citizens who have traveled to fight for terrorist organizations abroad.
The Associated Press reported that Nasir was a member of a nonviolent but illegal Moroccan Sufi Islam group in the 1980s, citing his Pentagon file. In 1996, he was recruited to fight in Chechnya but ended up in Afghanistan, where he trained at an al Qaeda camp, according to the news agency. He was captured after fighting U.S. forces there and sent to Guantánamo in May 2002, it added.
The legal charity Reprieve that represents Nasir said he was denied the basic due process right to contest allegations against him, as he was never charged with a crime. It said that from 2005-2007, he was held in solitary confinement in a windowless cell with the lights on constantly and had no access to a lawyer.
Nasir went on hunger strike twice to protest the conditions of his detention, the charity said.
“This transfer cannot make up for the two decades of his life that Abdul Latif has lost, held prisoner without charge, but we welcome his return to Moroccan soil at long last,” Reprieve Deputy Director Katie Taylor said. “Other transfers of prisoners cleared for release must follow without delay.”
Nasir’s brother, Mustafa, said his family’s prayers had been answered.
“To know that my brother has returned to Morocco fills me with happiness I cannot even describe,” he said in a statement released by Reprieve.
The transfer comes after NBC News reported in June that President Joe Biden had quietly begun efforts to close the detention facility at the U.S. enclave on the southeast coast of Cuba.
Sources previously said that the administration hoped to transfer a handful of the remaining terrorism suspects to foreign countries and then persuade Congress to permit the transfer of the rest — including 9/11 suspects — to detention on the U.S. mainland. Biden hopes to close the facility by the end of his first term, the people familiar with the discussions said.
Then-President George W. Bush opened the detention facility in 2002. At its height, it held nearly 800 detainees, including 9/11 suspects and fighters from Afghanistan.
During his campaign for president, Obama pledged to shutter the prison within a year of taking office and two days after being inaugurated signed an executive order to close it by the end of the year.
However, Congress resisted the transfer of detainees to the U.S. and by the end of Obama’s second term the facility remained open. Obama did however manage to reduce Guantánamo’s population from 245 to 41 detainees, transferring many to foreign countries.
While in office, Trump signed an executive order keeping the facility open and one detainee was transferred to a foreign country during his term.
The United States has to negotiate a transfer agreement with a foreign government for each detainee eligible for transfer, which can be difficult for detainees from destabilized countries like Yemen.
Biden has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept.11. The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest and has claimed the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops since 2001.
The U.S. invaded the country in 2001 toppling the Taliban group that sheltered Osama bin Laden, the architect of the terror attacks of Sept. 11 that year. As U.S. troops withdraw, the extremist Islamic movement is taking control over more territory at a pace that has even taken some militants by surprise.