The U.S. has transferred a Moroccan man to his homeland from the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba --- the first of what could be as many as 10 releases in the coming months, senior White House officials said Monday.
Abdul Latif Nasir, 56, was repatriated to Morocco on Monday. He had been imprisoned since 2002 and was recommended in 2016 for a transfer by a Periodic Review Board, subject to security and treatment assurances, but the handover was not completed by the end of the Obama administration. It also did not occur under the Trump administration.
Senior White House officials said Monday that Congress was notified June 17 of the pending transfer, part of its effort to reduce the prison population at Guantanamo with the goal of ultimately closing the facility.
"The transfer ... was certified by the Secretary of Defense in accordance with the requirements as outlined in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016 and Congress was notified appropropriately," an administration official said.
The Periodic Review Board process determined in 2016 that Nasir "no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States," according to a Defense Department release.
Senior officials said that 10 more of the remaining 39 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been recommended for transfer.
"For those detainees that have been recommended for transfer, the administration is very much focused on looking to pursue transfer," the official said, although she declined to provide a specific timeline for future repatriations.
According to the Associated Press, Nasser arrived in Morocco on Monday, where he was taken into police custody. Law enforcement officials said they would investigate him on suspicion of committing terrorist acts, although he was never charged while at Guantanamo.
The detention center was established in 2002 and at its heighth, held more than 800 persons, mainly those with suspected links to terrorism in the Middle East. A review board, made of officials from the Defense Department; Homeland Security; State and Justice Departments; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Office of Director of National Intelligence, was established in 2011 to consider the prisoners' status and prospects for transfer.
Nearly 200 prisoners were transferred under the Obama administration. President Donald Trump negated an executive order by President Barack Obama to close the prison, but did release at least one individual, a Saudi Arabian al-Qaida operative who was sent home to serve his remaining prison time, according to the Associated Press.
Nasser was a member of a nonviolent but illegal Moroccan Sufi Islam group in the 1980s, the Associated Press reported, citing Pentagon records. In 1996, he was recruited to fight in Chechnya but ended up in Afghanistan, where he trained at an al-Qaida camp, fought against the U.S. and was captured.
Senior officials said Monday that in addition to the 10 prisoners who have been recommended for transfer, 17 are eligible for periodic review boards, 10 are on trial via military commission and two have been convicted.
In a statement, the Pentagon thanked the Kingdom of Morocco for its cooperation in facilitating Nasser's transfer.
"The United States commends the Kingdom of Morocco for its long-time partnership in securing both countries' national security interests," the Pentagon statement said. "The United States is also extremely grateful for the Kingdom's willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility."
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill requiring the Defense Department to submit a report on the facility, including its plans to close it.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.