The United States said on Sunday it had transferred a Yemeni inmate from the Guantánamo Bay prison to Italy, bringing the number of detainees at the US naval base in Cuba to 78.
Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman was approved for transfer nearly six years ago by six US agencies: the Departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had been held at the prison for more than 14 years.
Suleiman is one of about two dozen low-level Guantánamo prisoners expected to be released in the coming weeks. Military records show Suleiman was suspected of fighting with al-Qaida against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
He was never charged and was cleared for release in 2010, but the US does not sent Yemeni prisoners to their homeland because of instability there and had to find another country to accept him for resettlement.
The US transferred two other Guantánamo detainees to Italy in November 2009.
Barack Obama, who had hoped to close the prison during his first year in office, rolled out his plan in February aimed at shutting the facility. But he faces opposition from many Republican lawmakers as well as some fellow Democrats.
Most of the 78 prisoners who remain at Guantánamo have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.
The Guantánamo prisoners were rounded up overseas when the US became embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The facility, opened by Obama’s Republican predecessor George W Bush, came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the US to accusations of torture.
Obama’s plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum security prisons in the US. US law bars such transfers to the mainland.
The US has struggled to persuade other countries to accept the prisoners because of concerns that they could launch attacks and America’s unwillingness to accept them on the US mainland.
“The United States is very grateful to the government of Italy for its continued assistance in closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay,” said Lee Wolosky, the US special envoy for Guantánamo closure.