Even as the White House left doubt on whether it would meet its own prison camps closure deadline, the Obama administration said Saturday it had freed three detainees from Guantanamo — one by order of a federal judge to Yemen, two others for new lives in Ireland.
A Justice Department statement said Yemeni Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, 26, was sent to his homeland in compliance with a May 4 federal court order.
In Ahmed's case, U.S. Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in May that the government's mosaic of evidence was insufficient to defend its indefinite detention of the long-held captive — either on grounds he fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan or was in league with al Qaeda in Pakistan.
The young Yemeni was captured in a large-scale March 2002 Pakistani raid on an alleged al Qaeda guest house in that netted the CIA alleged arch-terrorist Abu Zubaydah and other alleged war criminals now held at the prison camps in southeast Cuba.
The U.S. government did not identify the two men sent to Ireland but Dublin had earlier said that both approved for resettlement were citizens of Uzbekistan who feared persecution if they were returned to their homeland.
Irish human rights groups had long campaigned to resettle one Uzbek in particular, Oybek Jabbarov, 31, who said through his Boston attorney that he wanted to become a shepherd there.
The lawyer, Michael Mone, has cast his client as naive about the world, and frequently compared him to the comic film character Borat.
The weekend transfer reduced the prison camps census at Guantánamo to 223, including some 75 men whom an Obama task force had approved for release. Of the 75, 26 are Yemeni and 13 are Chinese citizens of the ethnic Uighur minority, many of whom are bound for new lives in the Pacific island nation of Palau.
The Associated Press reported Friday, quoting White House sources, that there might be some slippage in President Barack Obama's Jan. 22 deadline to empty the prison camps through releases and transfers, including some cases to federal court for civilian prosecution. Congress has opposed plans to detain some on U.S. soil.
Saturday's announcement was noteworthy as a rare transfer to Yemen. It showed the Pentagon complying with a civilian judge's release order, rather than appealing it.
And it was the first transfer of a Guantanamo detainee to Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland since the prison camps sent home the remains of another Yemeni captive in June after what the Pentagon called an apparent suicide.
The cause of Mohammed al Hanashi's death is still under investigation but military and detainees both reported the long-held 31-year-old captive was found dead in a prison camp psychiatric ward.
Yemen stillhas about 90 citizens held prisoner at Guantánamo because the U.S. State Department has not succeeded in negotiating a comprehensive repatriation and rehabilitation agreement with the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In Washington, a Yemeni statement confirmed this weekend's release.
"Yemen will continue its diplomatic dialogue with the United States government to repatriate the remaining Yemeni detainees," it said, adding: "Yemen hails the decision of President Obama to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and it is an astute reflection of the prudent national security and foreign policy position of the new U.S. administration."