The US government announced today it was transferring two detainees, Nabil Said Hadjarab and Mutia Sadiq Ahmad Sayyab, from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to Algeria. These are the first transfers out of Guantanamo in a year, and the first since President Barack Obama promised in May to renew his administration’s efforts to close the facility. While these transfers are a step in the right direction, they also highlight Guantanamo’s grave injustices. Both detainees have been in held in Guantanamo for more than 11 years, even though they were both cleared for transfer as early as 2007, and again in 2009.
Indefinite detention without charge or trial – at Guantanamo or anywhere – violates international law. It’s also bad policy: Guantanamo acts as a recruiting tool for would-be terrorists, so ongoing indefinite detention does not further US national security interests. There are still 164 men detained at Guantanamo, half of whom have been cleared for release for years. The Obama administration claims that Congress has tied its hands on transfers from the facility through various restrictions. Yet, as we have explained, these claims are overstated: the restrictions place obstacles in the way of transferring detainees from Guantanamo, but transfers are still possible.
The administration should not use the congressional restrictions to justify inaction. The transfers to Algeria show that the administration can transfer detainees out of Guantanamo even with the restrictions in place. Congress is considering overdue changes to the law that would lift the restrictions. But in the meantime let’s hope these transfers are an indication that even without changes in law, the Obama administration has finally shown a willingness to do the extra work necessary to make the transfers happen, and begin to fulfill the promise the president made on his second day in office– to close Guantanamo once and for all.