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US Returns Pakistani Brothers Held for Almost 20 Years at Guantanamo Bay


FILE - The sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, May 13, 2009.
FILE - The sun rises over the Guantanamo detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, May 13, 2009.

The United States has repatriated two brothers to their native Pakistan after holding them for almost two decades without charges at the controversial Guantanamo Bay military prison.

Abdul Rabbani, 55, and Mohammed Rabbani, 53, were arrested by Pakistani authorities in their home city of Karachi in 2002 before swiftly being transferred to U.S. custody for allegedly operating al-Qaida safe houses.

The U.S. Defense Department on Thursday announced the repatriation of the brothers, who were never charged with a crime, to Pakistan, saying their detention was "no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

It said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had last month notified Congress of his intent to send both men back to Pakistan, noting the U.S. had completed the requirements for the transfer in consultation with Pakistan.

The Rabbani brothers were the latest inmates to have left Guantanamo Bay as part of President Joe Biden's efforts to shut the controversial detention facility.

“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Government of Pakistan and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the Pentagon said Thursday.

A foreign ministry statement in Islamabad confirmed the repatriation of the two brothers to Pakistan on Friday, saying it “coordinated an extensive inter-agency process” to facilitate the transfer.

“We are pleased that these Pakistani nationals have finally reunited with their families,” the statement said.

Another Pakistani detainee, Majid Khan, who confessed to his role as an al-Qaida courier, was transferred from Guantanamo and resettled in Belize earlier this month after completing his sentence.

Khan, 42, was held in the detention facility for about 15 years. He was sentenced in 2021 to 10 years, with credit for the years he spent cooperating with his American interrogators.

Last October, the United States released the oldest prisoner at Guantanamo, identified as Pakistani national Saifullah Paracha, and transferred him to his home country.

Paracha, 75, had been held at the detention center since 2003 on suspicion of being tied to al-Qaida but he was never charged with a crime.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush's administration established the detention center at a naval base in Cuba for holding and interrogating terror suspects rounded up after September 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

At its peak, the Guantanamo detention center reportedly housed as many as 600 inmates accused of plotting terrorism against Americans.

The Pentagon on Thursday noted there are 32 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay, 18 of whom are eligible for transfer, nine defendants in military-run tribunals, and two others convicted.

Human rights groups have long criticized the military prison and demanded its closure, citing reported abuses, torture, and prolonged detentions of inmates, many without charges or trial.