Senegal has agreed to host two detainees who have spent more than a decade in the United States detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Confirming the transfer of the prisoners, the US Department of Defense has revealed the move is part of efforts to close down the prison facility by the end of the summer.
The two detainees, Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar, had been in Guantanamo Bay since 2002. Leaked prisoner files indicate they have ties with Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and Al-Qaeda. Acceptance of the detainees is the first such gesture Senegal has ever extended since it gained independence from France together with Mali on 4 April 1960.
During this year’s 56th independence anniversary, questions are rife over how prepared the West African state is to contain these men – fears which the Senegalese Minister of Justice Sidiki Kaba has sought to allay:
The main objective is to ensure that the Guantanamo prison is closed because there were serious violations of human rights. These are prisoners whose rights have actually been violated because you know, many people were arrested who were later found to have done nothing. These people have therefore not been found culpable for any crime and they have not been tried and sentenced. These are people who in reality are free of all charges. And all democracies like Senegal may well accept the need to receive them on humanitarian grounds,” he said.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry has applauded the Senegalese government for hosting the prisoners, describing the move as a “humanitarian gesture.” More prisoners are expected to be transferred from the facility this month as part of President Obama’s resolve to fulfill his promise to close the prison, with the recent transfer reducing the prison’s population to fewer than 100.
Senegal joins 11 other African countries who have granted entry to about 50 ex-detainees in all. The list includes Morocco, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Ghana, Tunisia, Mauritania, Egypt and Chad. Despite the agreement by these governments to host these prisoners, many citizens are calling for them to be sent back to their respective countries, as they raise issues of terrorism and national security.