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Guantanamo Bay: Two Yemenis win release after being held without charge for 17 years

The men are among 40 prisoners still at the facility that began taking prisoners following the September 11 attacks
Protestors in Washington DC highlight the continuing use of the Guantanamo Bay facility as a military prison (AFP)

Two Yemeni prisoners held without charge at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for the last 17 years have been released by the US government, new documents reveal. 

US Defense Department files show that Ali al-Hajj al-Sharqawi, 47, and Abd al-Salam al-Hilal, 49, were approved for transfer to other countries on 8 June.   

"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," documents released by the Pentagon's Review Board showed. 

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The two men were detained in 2002 as part of the US "War on Terror" that saw Washington search the world for al-Qaeda members after the 11 September attacks on the United States in 2001. Both were later transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004. 

Records show Sharqawi was accused of being a senior al-Qaeda member who helped move money for the group and recruit bodyguards for the former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 

Sharqawi was also tortured while being interrogated by the CIA in Pakistan, according to records. He never faced charges in military tribunals held for Guantanamo prisoners. 

Egyptian authorities detained Hilal in Cairo in 2002, where a Yemeni government official accused him of facilitating activities for al-Qaeda, and handed him over to the US authorities. Hilal was also never charged. 

'Monitoring and travel restrictions'

The Pentagon Review Board said both men presented "some level of threat in light of past activities". It added that Hilal's travel could be safely arranged with "monitoring and travel restrictions" and that Sharqawi could be resettled in a third country that could rehabilitate him.  

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The two men are among 40 prisoners still at Guantanamo Bay, which began taking prisoners following the September 11 attacks.

Currently, 11 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, including Hilal and Sharqawi, have been cleared to be sent elsewhere and are waiting for the US State Department to arrange their repatriation. 

In May, the Biden administration approved the release of three detainees to countries that will impose security conditions, including the oldest prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, Saifullah Paracha, a 73-year-old from Pakistan.

Earlier this year, US President Joe Biden launched a review of plans to close down the military prison.