Biden Administration Transfers Its First Detainee From Guantánamo Bay

The Biden team picked up where the Obama administration left off with the repatriation of a Moroccan man, reducing the prison population to 39.



By Carol Rosenberg and Charlie Savage

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Monday transferred its first detainee out of Guantánamo Bay, repatriating a Moroccan man who had been recommended for discharge from the wartime prison starting in 2016 but nevertheless remained there during the Trump years.

The transfer of the man, Abdul Latif Nasser, 56, was the first sign of a renewed effort under President Biden to winnow the population of prisoners by sending them to other countries that promise to ensure the men remain under security measures. Mr. Nasser was never charged with a crime.

The transfer process, which was pursued by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, had atrophied under Donald J. Trump. With Mr. Nasser’s departure, there are now 39 prisoners at Guantánamo, 11 of whom have been charged with war crimes. At its peak in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, the prison complex at the U.S. naval base there held about 675 men.

Far more complex policy decisions about transfers await the Biden team, including whether to transfer a mentally ill Saudi man, Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was tortured at Guantánamo and is considered to have been one of several candidates to be a potential 20th hijacker on 9/11.

The remaining 28 prisoners who have not been charged during the nearly two decades they have been in custody are held as Mr. Nasser had been — as indefinite law-of-war detainees in the armed conflict against Al Qaeda. Of those, 10 have been recommended for transfer with security arrangements by a federal parole-like panel.

The Biden White House, while supporting the goal of closing the prison, has adopted a low-key approach in that effort. Mr. Obama made it a signature policy, ordering that the prison be closed during his first year in office — and failed in the face of intense opposition from Congress. Mr. Biden and his aides have sought to avoid igniting the same kind of backlash by working quietly to begin reducing the prison population again.

“The United States is grateful to the Kingdom of Morocco for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility,” a senior administration official said on Sunday, while the transfer was underway, and so declined to be identified by name. The official said the White House was “dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process of responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

Military intelligence officials have cast Mr. Nasser as a former Taliban fighter who battled the invading U.S. forces in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001. He told an interagency panel through a representative five years ago that he “deeply regrets his actions of the past,” and he was approved for release by the government panel on July 11, 2016, on the condition that he be sent only to his native Morocco with security assurances from its government.

Details of such arrangements are not public, but in the Obama years they typically included not letting the former detainee travel abroad for several years and a commitment to monitor him and to share information with the American government about him.

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