A Yemeni man held at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay has been released to Montenegro. Seventy-nine prisoners are still being held at the notorious facility the Obama administration has vowed to close down.
After 14 years in custody at the US detention center in Cuba, Abdel Malik Abdel Wahab al-Rahabi was released and sent to the small Balkan nation of Montenegro, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
Al-Rahabi was cleared for release in 2014 after a review board found he was not a threat to US national security. However, due to the civil war raging in Yemen he could not be released to his homeland and another country had to be found to accept him.
"Montenegro now joins other US friends and allies in Europe in accepting multiple detainees for resettlement, bringing us closer to our shared goal of closing the facility," said Lee Wolosky, special envoy for Guantanamo closure at the State Department. More than 50 countries have so far accepted inmates from the detention center.
David Remes, Al-Rahabi's lawyer, said his client was excited reunite with his wife and daughter.
"He's been waiting for this for a long time," Remes said.
Al-Rahabi has been held at Guantanamo since 2002 after being arrested in Afghanistan. He traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan where he "almost certainly" became a member of al-Qaeda, according to Pentagon documents. However, he never faced any charges.
Al-Rahabi's release brings the number of detainees at the detention facility down to 79, including 29 cleared to be released to their country or a third country. Those cleared for release could be free in a matter of weeks, while the remaining have either been convicted or are considered too dangerous.
President Barack Obama pledged to close the facility when he took office and earlier this year presented Congress with a plan to transfer inmates and bring those considered most dangerous to maximum security prisons in the United States. US law prohibits Guantanamo transfers to the mainland.
Obama's proposal has faced resistance from Republicans and some Democrats concerned over having inmates on US soil and recidivism if prisoners are released to their homeland or third countries.
A troubled history
The US opened the detention center at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay in 2002 to hold suspected terrorists caught in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At its height, some 780 inmates were at the prison. When Obama became president there were 242 detainees.
The detention center has been a sore spot in the US' image in the world due to allegations of torture and the absence of legal due process.
Many inmates were held for years without trial or charges. Some turned out to be innocently caught up in the US' "war on terror."
cw/bk (AP, Reuters)