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US to return two Guantanamo inmates to Algeria


The United States said Friday it will return two Algerians detained at Guantanamo Bay to their homeland as part of efforts to eventually close the War on Terror military prison.

"The United States remains determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," the White House said in a statement.

"In support of those efforts, today the Department of Defense certified to Congress its intent to repatriate an additional two detainees to Algeria.

"We are taking this step in consultation with the Congress, and in a responsible manner that protects our national security," it said.

It did not identify the two inmates. At least 12 Algerians held at Guantanamo, a US naval base in Cuba, have been repatriated.

A Pentagon spokesman said officials had carefully examined the two cases before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a green light for the release.

President Barack Obama vowed to close the facility when he first took office in 2009, but four years on the military prison set up in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks still holds 166 men.

The vast majority of those held at Guantanamo, detained on Afghan battlefields or handed over by other countries, have never been charged or tried, and dozens have been taking part in a hunger strike in recent months.

Seventy detainees were taking part in the hunger strike as of July 23, with 46 of them listed as being fed through nasal tubes, according to the military.

More than half of the detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for release and face no charges in the United States.

Most of those cleared are Yemenis, whose release is blocked by a special moratorium imposed in the wake of the failed December 2009 plot to blow up a US passenger plane.

The plot was later traced back to Al-Qaeda's Yemeni franchise, whose members include former Guantanamo inmates.

As part of his renewed bid to shutter the prison, Obama has promised to lift the moratorium, and is expected to discuss Guantanamo with Yemen's president during a White House visit next week.

But his efforts have also been blocked by a congressional ban on trying or jailing Guantanamo detainees on US soil.

"We continue to call on Congress to join us in supporting these efforts by lifting the current restrictions that significantly limit our ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, even those who have been approved for transfer," the White House said.

Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat who favors closing the facility and who is currently visiting Guantanamo with a congressional delegation, welcomed the transfer.

"Every day Guantanamo remains open, the reputation of the United States suffers and we provide anti-American propaganda to our enemies," he said in a statement.

He said the prison "is not worth the damage it continues to inflict on our international standing, including our ability to stand up to human rights abuses in other countries."

The return of detainees to their home countries is subject to strict conditions, including the receiving state's ability to monitor former inmates and prevent them from enlisting in armed groups.

The most recent Guantanamo detainee to be released was Omar Khadr, who was repatriated to Canada in September 2012 after spending 10 years in the US-run prison.