WASHINGTON: Two Yemenis held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for 17 years as alleged Al Qaeda supporters have won their release, according to newly published Defence Department filings on their cases.

Ali al Hajj al Sharqawi and Abd Al Salam Al Hilal were both detained in 2002 as US authorities, citing the “war on terror”, combed the world for members of Al Qaeda after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

They were transferred to Guantanamo in 2004, with subsequent records showing Sharqawi had undergone torture while being interrogated by the CIA after he was detained in Pakistan. Documents released by the Pentagon’s Periodic Review Board, which regularly assesses the cases of the detainees at Guantanamo, showed both had been approved for release on June 8.

“The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” filings on both men’s cases said.

Sharqawi (named as Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj in Guantanamo records), 47, was accused of being a high-level facilitator for Al Qaeda, helping to move money and fighters across the Middle East and recruiting bodyguards for Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

But he has never faced charges in the military tribunals set up for Guantanamo prisoners. A 2019 report by Physicians for Human Rights said he had multiple health problems, some exacerbated by a 2017 weeks-long hunger strike.

Al Hilal, 49, also has never been charged. A Yemen government official who allegedly facilitated activities for Al Qaeda, he was detained by Egyptian authorities in Cairo in 2002 and was then apparently handed over to the Americans.

The Periodic Review Board statements on their release approvals said both appear to not subscribe to extremist beliefs or to plan to re-engage with groups like Al Qaeda.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2021

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