The front gate of Camp Delta is shown at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay.

© 2007 Reuters

(Nairobi) – The Senegalese government has shown compassion and a commitment to human rights in agreeing to resettle two Libyans detained by the United States government at Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Senegal’s decision to welcome the two Libyans will help heal the harm caused by 14 years of unjust detention at Guantanamo,” said Laura Pitter, senior US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Senegal has made an important humanitarian gesture by offering these men the chance to start a new life.”

The two detainees resettled to Senegal are Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, 55, and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar, approximately 44 years old. Both are Libyan nationals who were held for nearly 14 years at the Guantanamo detention facility without charge or trial, in violation of international law.

In 2009, an interagency task force determined that Ghereby did not pose a significant security threat to the US, thereby clearing him for release from Guantanamo. A different interagency body, a Periodic Review Board, cleared Abu Bakr in 2015. Both are alleged to have joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in the 1990s, an organization opposed to then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Years after the US detained Ghereby and Abu Bakr, the LIFG split into two factions, one of which was allegedly aligned with international terrorist organizations.

The US began sending people apprehended during the so-called “war on terror” to Guantanamo in January 2002. The administration of US President George W. Bush chose the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba as a detention site to put the detainees beyond the jurisdiction of US courts. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the detainees can challenge their detention in US federal court.

“Detaining hundreds of men without charge at Guantanamo has been a legal and political debacle of historic proportions,” Pitter said. “Guantanamo should have been closed long ago.”

On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama promised to close the Guantanamo detention facility within one year. That goal has proved elusive due to the administration’s lack of commitment and obstruction from Congress. However, as Obama approaches the end of his second term, his administration has shown a greater commitment to closing the facility. In the past three months, 18 detainees have been released and media reports indicate that approximately a dozen more transfers are scheduled for the next few weeks.

The Congress has blocked the Obama administration from moving Guantanamo detainees to the US for any purpose – trial, detention, or resettlement. Accordingly, the only option for many detainees is to be sent home – often impossible due to instability or the risk of torture or persecution – or to be resettled in third countries. This is the second transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a West African nation in the past few months. Ghana showed similar compassion and commitment to human rights in taking in two former Yemeni Guantanamo detainees in January 2016. Roughly two dozen other countries have also resettled Guantanamo detainees including Germany, Uruguay, Ireland, and France.

A total of 779 detainees have been held at Guantanamo Bay since January 2002, of whom about 676 were released without charge, many after being detained for years. Nine Guantanamo detainees died in custody, six reportedly by suicide.

A total of 89 men remain at the facility, 35 of whom have been cleared for release, while another 44 await review by the Periodic Review Board. Of the remaining 10 detainees, seven currently face charges in the fundamentally flawed military commission system and another three have been convicted. Half of the eight convictions obtained in the commissions have been overturned.

“President Obama has less than a year in office to erase the stain of Guantanamo on his human rights legacy,” Pitter said. “With help from countries such as Senegal, Obama could finally reach his goal of closing the prison.”