Another Detainee Is Leaving Guantanamo Bay

Thursday’s announcement leaves 154 detainees still at the prison.

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - MARCH 30: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) U.S. Navy guards escort a detainee after a 'life skills' class held for prisoners at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to close the facility by early 2010 but has struggled to transfer, try or release the remaining detainees from the facility, located on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
National Journal
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Jordain Carney
March 13, 2014, 8:49 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing a small step to­ward reach­ing the pres­id­ent’s goal of clos­ing Guantanamo Bay.

The De­fense De­part­ment an­nounced Thursday that it trans­ferred Ahmed Bel­bacha, 44, from the Cuban de­ten­tion cen­ter to the gov­ern­ment of Al­ger­ia.

Bel­bacha was de­term­ined to be a “prob­able mem­ber” of al-Qaida, in­clud­ing at­tend­ing a Qaida-backed train­ing camp and hav­ing as­so­ci­ations with ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to a leaked as­sess­ment from the Pentagon’s Joint Task Force at Guantanamo in 2006.

The re­port notes that while he is of low in­tel­li­gence value, Bel­bacha could pose a threat to the United States, its in­terests, and its al­lies.

But a 2009 in­ter­agency re­view task force, ordered by Pres­id­ent Obama, re­viewed the case and un­an­im­ously de­cided that Bel­bacha could be trans­ferred.

Thursday’s an­nounce­ment is the most re­cent step in the pres­id­ent’s long up­hill fight to close the pris­on. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has faced leg­al hurdles and polit­ic­al chal­lenges, in­clud­ing op­pos­i­tion from Con­gress.

But Obama caught a break late last year. A pro­vi­sion in the an­nu­al de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion act eased trans­fer re­stric­tions on de­tain­ees who have been cleared to leave and were nev­er charged with a crime. It would al­low them to re­turn to their home coun­tries or to cer­tain oth­er na­tions will­ing to re­ceive them.

There are 154 de­tain­ees re­main­ing at Guantanamo Bay.

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