The US transferred two brothers detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to Pakistan, the Defense Department announced Thursday, part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to close the prison facility.
Abdul Rabbani and Mohammed Rabbani were held as detainees in the US’ decadeslong war against terror for operating safe houses used by al Qaeda members, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The brothers, who were never charged with a crime, were repatriated to Pakistan after it was determined that their detention was no longer needed to protect against a “continuing, significant threat” to the United States, the Defense Department said in a statement.
“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Government of Pakistan and other partners to support ongoing U.S.
Efforts focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the Pentagon said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had notified Congress in January of his intent to repatriate the Rabbani brothers to Pakistan.
Their transfer comes after the Pentagon announced the transfer of another Guantanamo prisoner, Majid Khan, to Belize earlier this month. Khan was convicted of terrorism offenses in 2012 and completed his sentence.
Khan lived in the US from 1996 to early 2002 and was suspected of assisting al Qaeda in planning attacks on the US and elsewhere.
Authorities believed he joined al Qaeda after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
There are currently 32 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay, 18 of whom are eligible for transfer, according to the Defense Department.
In order to close the prison, President Joe Biden would need to move all 32 detainees to other prisons or locations.
When former President Barack Obama wanted to try the five accused of plotting 9/11 in New York City, he faced swift public and political backlash.
Obama also promised to shut Guantanamo when he campaigned for the White House, setting up the office of military commissions and the Periodic Review Board system during his tenure, but failed to close the prison during his eight years in office.
Originally opened in 2002, the facility was meant to be a place where suspects in the war on terror could be interrogated. But prisoners have been indefinitely detained, many without charges or trial and subjected to reported abuse.
As the US war on terror dragged on, the detention facility became an international symbol of US rights abuses in the post-9/11 era.