WASHINGTON - The U.S. released two inmates from its Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba on Monday, sending them to the west African nation of Senegal.
"The United States is grateful to the government of Senegal for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," a Pentagon statement said.
The two men, identified as Libyans Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker and Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby, had been held at the prison for 14 years without charges.
Both Khalif, who lost a leg from a 1998 landmine explosion, and Ghereby were opponents of the deposed Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Khalif was apprehended in Karachi in early 2002, while Ghereby was detained in late 2001 along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Six U.S. agencies reviewed their cases before deciding to release them to Senegal, the 26th country to agree to accept the U.S. detainees.
Their release cuts the Guantanamo prison population to 89 as U.S. President Barack Obama continues his efforts to close Guantanamo before he leaves office next January, an effort opposed by Republican lawmakers in Congress.
In all, 779 prisoners have been held at the facility, established to hold suspected terrorists as the U.S. launched military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
As Monday's prisoner release was announced, the U.S. State Department reiterated Obama's contention that "the continued operation of the detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and serving as a propaganda tool for violent extremists."
U.S. news agencies reported last week that U.S. defense officials intend to soon release another 10 or so Guantanamo prisoners.
Human Rights Watch said Monday's release "shows meaningful progress" in closing the prison.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.