Obama administration to release six more Gitmo detainees

The Pentagon has notified Congress of its intention to release six detainees from Gitmo, the first since the deal that retrieved Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban and/or the Haqqani network in Afghanistan.  This release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay won’t generate as much controversy, as it involves “low level” figures, which now comprise about half of Gitmo’s detainee population. This still may be a deal for the White House, which stands to gain at least a little time, and not just the thirty days’ notice that the Pentagon is required to provide:

The Pentagon recently notified members of Congress that it intends to transfer six low-level detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Uruguay soon, including a Syrian man who is legally challenging the manner in which the military force-feeds some prisoners, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The men — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — are among the more than 70 detainees who have long been cleared for release from the U.S. detention facility because they are not deemed an ongoing threat. The move would mark a significant step in the Obama administration’s long-stymied quest to shut down Guantanamo Bay, where 149 inmates remain.

A congressional aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity said key lawmakers were notified about the imminent transfer last Thursday. None has publicly criticized the proposal. By law, the Pentagon must notify members of Congress of its intention to release Guantanamo Bay inmates at least 30 days in advance.

Uruguay’s outgoing administration has publicly welcomed the six detainees. President José Mujica has said he feels a kinship with the men, having spent years in prison himself during an era of unrest in his country. He also urged Barack Obama and Congress to expedite the transfer rather than have them become “scapegoats in the current bout of U.S. partisan politics.”

There is another good reason for both the White House and Congress to expedite the transfer:

The six detainees bound for Uruguay include a Syrian man who has brought a high-profile court challenge to the Pentagon’s procedures for forcibly feeding detainees who are on a hunger strike. His transfer would most likely render that lawsuit moot, although there are several similar challenges. …

If the transfer takes place in early August, a consequence could be the dismissal, without a ruling on the merits, of a lawsuit brought by one of the men, Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, challenging the military’s procedures for force-feeding detainees who have been on a long-term hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention without trial.

Mr. Diyab was arrested by the Pakistani police in a raid on a guesthouse in April 2002 and brought to Guantánamo in August 2002. On May 16, Judge Gladys Kessler of United States District Court for the District of Columbia barred the military from force-feeding Mr. Diyab, but she lifted the order a week later as his health deteriorated — even as she publicly rebuked the military for using procedures that she said caused unnecessary “agony.” His legal team has made a motion to depose military officials and gather documents about the details of the force-feeding practices.

It may be that the administration would prefer not to fight that battle with Diyab, whose low-level status might have raised questions about why he was still at Gitmo in the first place. Getting Diyab to Uruguay could shift the focus of those challenges on force feeding to a detainee of more significance, whose continued detention would be less questionable. The list of challenges reported by the New York Times includes a Yemeni on the transfer list and a Pakistani recommended for prosecution. The problem with transferring the Yemeni ahead of the challenge is that Yemen is too unstable to send back potential jihadists, so the Diyab release may only buy the US a little more time to deal with the force-feeding issue in court, if that’s the motivation.