MIAMI (AP) — Five prisoners have been released from Guantanamo Bay as part of a renewed effort to close the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, officials said Thursday.
Three men were sent to Georgia and two to Slovakia for resettlement. They were among dozens of low-level prisoners at Guantanamo that an administration task force in 2009 deemed to no longer pose a threat.
The release of the men, four Yemenis and a Tunisian, brings the prison population to 143, about 100 fewer than when President Barack Obama took office pledging to close the detention center.
Obama's vow to close Guantanamo was thwarted by Congress, which prohibited sending any prisoner to the U.S. and imposed restrictions that brought releases to a halt.
Congress eased the transfer restrictions last December, and releases have resumed. A number of resettlements are expected in the coming weeks. U.S. State Department envoy Clifford Sloan has been trying to persuade countries to accept prisoners, and he praised Georgia and Slovakia.
"We are very grateful to our partners for these generous humanitarian gestures," Sloan said. "We appreciate the strong support we are receiving from our friends and allies around the globe."
Georgia took three prisoners from Guantanamo in 2010. Slovakia has taken a total of eight men from Guantanamo.
The release of the three Yemeni prisoners, the first of that nationality to be resettled since 2010, was unusual because the U.S. has been reluctant to send them to their unstable homeland and has struggled to find alternatives. They make up the majority awaiting transfer.
U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called for a halt to the transfers because of the potential that some former prisoners could pose a threat. "What the Obama Administration is doing is dangerous and, frankly, reckless," the California Republican said.
There are 74 prisoners at Guantanamo cleared and awaiting resettlement. Thirty-six have been designated for detention without charge. There are also 23 slated for prosecution and 10 either facing trial by military commission or who have been convicted or sentenced.