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Guantanamo: US releases Algerian detainee, bringing population down to 30

Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush's release is sixth in six months. Now more than half of Guantanamo detainees are eligible for transfer
Bakush's transfer brings to total number of detainees still at Guantanamo down to 30 remaining detainees.
Bakush's transfer brings the total number of detainees still at Guantanamo down to 30 (AFP/File photo)

The United States government has released a Guantanamo detainee back to his home country of Algeria, bringing the total prisoner population at the detention centre down to 30.

The detainee, Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush, was captured in Pakistan during a raid in March 2002 while living in a guest house that was believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. He, however, has always maintained that he was the victim of mistaken identity.

Last April, the Pentagon declared him clear for transfer through the Periodic Review Board process, which determines whether continued detention is necessary for security reasons. On Thursday, he was transferred to Algeria.

Although he will be freed from Guantanamo, the Department of Defence noted that his transfer to Algeria would be subject to "a comprehensive set of security measures including monitoring, travel restrictions and continued information sharing".

The transfer of Bakush now leaves only one detainee remaining at Guantanamo that was picked up in the same raid.

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Bakush's transfer brings the total number of detainees still at Guantanamo down to 30 remaining detainees. Sixteen of them are already eligible for transfer and three are eligible to be considered for review. Nine are being tried via the military commission process and two have been convicted via the commission process.

But of those who are eligible for transfer, 11 of them may have a more difficult time than Bakush, given they are not eligible to be transferred to their home countries of Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.

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Thursday's transfer was the sixth release of a Guantanamo detainee by Biden in the past six months - a recent surge, given the lack of movement on transferring out prisoners during the first year of the president's term in office.

In March, Ghassan al-Sharbi, an American-educated engineer who spent 21 years imprisoned in Guantanamo without trial, was released and sent to his home country of Saudi Arabia.

Biden began a quiet effort to close the detention centre with hopes of transferring out the remaining population eligible for release, but he is facing an obstacle with the detainees ineligible for release.

The Biden administration is discussing options, including a possible executive order, to further reduce the number of detainees in the coming months and ultimately close the detention facility by the end of Biden’s current term, one current and one former administration official told NBC News.

Many legal experts have said the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay have been an "abject failure" and have called on the US government to put an end to the proceedings, which have for decades been stuck at the pre-trial stage.

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