MIAMI — The Obama administration on Friday named 55 captives who the government has cleared for release from the prison camps in Guantanamo if they can be repatriated or resettled safely through diplomatic deals. The government has for years refused to make the names public.
The list includes Syrians and Yemenis whose countries are so rocked by unrest that the U.S. government has frozen all repatriations. It also includes three Muslims from China’s Uighur population, who won a federal court release order in 2008 but spurned an offer to leave Guantanamo for the Pacific island nation of Palau.
Also on the list: a Tajik cleared long ago by the Bush administration who fears repatriation; a Saudi national whose family lives in Britain; and several Tunisian men who before the Arab Spring feared persecution if returned to the dictatorship in their homeland.
The Defense Department holds 167 foreign men as prisoners at Guantanamo — just four as convicted war criminals and six currently facing capital charges. The rest are held in a variety of statuses assigned them by a Task Force representing the U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and prosecution communities.
A State Department statement said the Obama government had been withholding the names of Guantanamo captives cleared for release from the public “to maintain flexibility in its diplomatic engagements with foreign governments on potential detainee transfers, especially in cases of resettlement in third countries.”
Now, the statement said, there are very few cleared Guantanamo captives who should be sent to a third country “due to humane treatment concerns.”
The list of the names of the 55 men was attached to filings at the U.S. District court in Washington, D.C., where different captives are in different stages of suing for their freedom. The name of a 56th man designated for transfer was withheld because his name is under seal by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the State Department said.
Making the names public also lifts restrictions on defense lawyers, who are now free to seek third-country deals on their own.
Obama-era resettlements have been the responsibility of U.S. Ambassador Dan Fried, a State Department veteran who since 2009 negotiated deals to resettle Guantanamo captives in such far-flung locations as Bermuda, Cape Verde, El Salvador and across Europe.
“This is a partial victory for transparency,” said attorney Zachary Katznelson of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sought the status of each captive under the Freedom of Information Act.
Suzanne Nossel, director of Amnesty International’s United States chapter, issued a statement urging the immediate release of the men.
“Indefinite detention is a human rights violation,” she said.
She also highlighted the case of detainee Shaker Aamer, a 45-year-old former British resident who was turned over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — and urged his return to his wife and children in London. As a Saudi citizen, the United States could repatriate him to either the UK or the nation of his birth.