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US Returns Afghans Home From Gitmo     12/20 12:44

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon said Saturday that four Afghans from the 
Guantanamo Bay detention center have been returned to their home country in 
what U.S. officials are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan 
President Ashraf Ghani.

   Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the 
request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four --- long 
cleared for release --- as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved 
U.S.-Afghan relations.

   There is no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men, 
identified as Mohammed Zahir, Shawali Khan, Abdul Ghani and Khi Ali Gul. 
Afghanistan's High Peace Council, a government-appointed group, confirmed the 
transfer, but did not identify the men, saying that the four "will be reunited 
soon with their families."

   The council also requested the repatriation of the eight Afghans who are 
among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.

   The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said in a statement that it 
had "full confidence in the Afghan government's ability to mitigate any threats 
these individuals may pose and to ensure that they are given humane treatment." 
The transfer "demonstrates Afghan sovereignty and U.S. trust in the strength of 
Afghan government institutions," according to the statement.

   The move is the latest in a series of transfers during the past two months. 
President Barack Obama has been pushing to reduce the number of detainees as he 
tries to make progress toward his goal of closing the globally condemned 
detention center for suspected terrorists.

   Administration officials, speaking on a condition of anonymity because they 
are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, say more transfers are 
expected in the coming weeks.

   Guantanamo now holds the lowest number of detainees since shortly after it 
opened nearly 13 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those 
remaining include 64 approved for transfer.

   Although the four Afghans have long been approved for transfer, the move 
sparked debate in Washington. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did not immediately 
sign off after Gen. John F. Campbell, the top American commander in 
Afghanistan, raised concerns they could pose a danger to troops in the country. 
Administration officials say Campbell and all military leaders on the ground 
have now screened the move.

   "The United States is grateful to the government of the Islamic Republic of 
Afghanistan for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the 
Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Pentagon said in a statement. "The 
United States coordinated with the government of the Islamic Republic of 
Afghanistan to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate 
security and humane treatment measures."

   One administration official involved in the review said most, if not all, 
the terrorism accusations against the men had been discarded and each is 
considered a low-level operative at best.

   Before he can close Guantanamo, Obama faces the challenge of working out 
what to do with any detainees who aren't cleared for transfer --- either 
because the United States wants to prosecute them or continuing holding them 
because they are considered too dangerous to release. Congress has passed 
legislation blocking detainees from coming to the U.S. for detention or trial.

   Obama issued a statement Friday objecting to congressional restrictions on 
closing Guantanamo. He said shutting down the detention facility was a 
"national imperative." He also noted that the U.S. recently ended its 
operations of prisons for suspected terrorists in Afghanistan by releasing the 
final three detainees from the Parwan Detention Center.

   "Yet halfway around the world, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, 
Cuba, remains open for the 13th consecutive year, costing the American people 
hundreds of millions of dollars each year and undermining America's standing in 
the world," Obama said.

   He added, "The continued operation of this detention facility weakens our 
national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key 
allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists."

   Some Guantanamo opponents are questioning whether the United States has the 
authority to continue detaining prisoners captured in the Afghan conflict after 
the end of combat operations at year's end.

   "We will certainly expect to see legal challenges to continued detention at 
the end of hostilities, which is just in a couple weeks," said J. Wells Dixon, 
an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Dixon has assisted on 
the case of Khan and said hopefully he can reunite with his father and brother 
after nearly 13 years at Guantanamo.

   "He was sent to Guantanamo on the flimsiest of allegations that were 
implausible on their face and never fully investigated," Dixon argued. "He 
never should have been there."


(KA)


 
 
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