Two Yemeni detainees held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were transferred to Ghana, the U.S. Defense Department said on Wednesday, years after both men were recommended for release.
Dozens of countries have received former Guantanamo Bay detainees but the transfers were the first to Ghana, which sought on Wednesday to allay possible public concern that they could pose a security threat.
The detainees were identified by the Pentagon as Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih al-Dhuby.
Government documents posted online by the New York Times identified al-Dhuby as a Yemeni citizen born in Saudi Arabia in 1981 who traveled to Afghanistan to fight, and was assessed to be "a probable member" of al Qaeda. He surrendered to Afghan forces, was turned over to the United States, and was sent to Guantanamo Bay in May 2002.
In 2006, the Pentagon's Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay recommended he be transferred out of its custody.
Bin Atef was identified by the documents as a Yemeni citizen born in 1979 in Saudi Arabia. He was handed over to the United States after his capture by Northern Alliance Forces in Afghanistan in November 2001.
The Pentagon described Bin Atef in 2007 as "an admitted member of the Taliban." But his U.S. lawyer, George Clark, said he was cleared for release in 2009.
"He's a smart, bright young man and I'm sure he'll be successful," said Clarke. He added that Bin Atef's priorities upon release would likely be getting married and starting a family, learning the local language, and finding employment.
Ghana has granted permission for the two men to remain in the country two years subject to security clearances, said Foreign Minister Hanna Tetteh, adding that their activities would be monitored.
The West African nation is a stable democracy that prides itself on upholding humanitarian values and contributing to U.N. peacekeeping missions. Its population is largely Christian, but Islam is strong, particularly in the north of the country.
Several other African countries have received Guantanamo detainees, including Uganda and Cape Verde.
"Many countries have already taken people in such situations so it's not out of the ordinary," Ghana's Communications Minister Edward Boamah told Reuters.
The United States requested the transfers a year ago and Ghana sent its U.S. ambassador to Guantanamo Bay to interview the detainees and assess any risk, Boamah said.
Clarke voiced frustration over the years-long delay in Bin Atef's release from Guantanamo, after he was first cleared for transfer.
"Nobody understands that," he said. "That's been one of the perpetual frustrations of representing people down there."
President Barack Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to close the prison, views it as a damaging symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge that he inherited from Republican President George W. Bush.
A Reuters report last month found that Pentagon officials have been throwing up bureaucratic obstacles to thwart the president's plan to close Guantanamo.
The men's release means 105 detainees now remain at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon said.