The Pentagon has transferred two Libyan detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Senegal, Defense Department officials said on Monday, the latest step in President Obama’s accelerating effort to close the prison before he leaves office.
Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar were captured separately in Pakistan and had been held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. The men were described in leaked U.S. military documents as members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamist faction that opposed Muammar Gadhafi’s authoritarian regime.
In the 1990s, a number of Libyans associated with the LIFG traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The leaked documents, which date to 2008, allege that both men associated with al-Qaida militants during their time there and may have fought against U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Some of the allegations in the leaked Guantanamo assessments have since been discredited.
Both men came to Guantanamo Bay with significant injuries, the documents report. Ghereby lost fingers in some sort of explosive incident; Umar had a leg amputated, possibly after stepping on a mine.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry thanked the Senegalese government for agreeing to take the men.
“The continued operation of the detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and serving as a propaganda tool for violent extremists,” Kerry said in a statement.
Under current U.S. law, the Obama administration cannot repatriate detainees from a small group of unstable countries, including Yemen and Libya.
The Libyans’ resettlement leaves 89 prisoners at Guantanamo, 35 of whom have been cleared to be transferred out.
While the Pentagon and State Department are racing to move cleared detainees as quickly as possible, the White House is continuing its effort to persuade lawmakers to allow others to be brought to the United States.
Some of those detainees are deemed too dangerous to release but cannot be tried because prosecutors don’t have adequate evidence they can present to a military judge.
Earlier this year, Obama made the case for shutting down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, saying it was time to close a difficult chapter in American history.
In 2015, the State Department removed the LIFG from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Since Gadhafi’s ouster in 2011, some former LIFG members have joined the Libyan government.