2 Guantanamo Detainees End Captivity

The Defense Department said this week that two detainees were removed from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. One was Syrian; the other Algerian. Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for the Miami Herald, offers her insight.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

We want to check in now on efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. This week, the Obama administration, for the first time, sent a detainee home from Guantanamo against his will. He'd been held at the detention center in Cuba for eight years, and had argued he would be tortured or killed if he was returned to Algeria.

Well, joining us now is Carol Rosenberg, who has reported extensively on Guantanamo for the Miami Herald.

Carol Rosenberg, tell us a little bit more about who this man is, what the nature of his case was.

Ms. CAROL ROSENBERG (Reporter, Miami Herald): His name is Abdul Aziz Naji. He's 35 years old. And he was part of the population that the Obama administration didn't want to try, didn't want to defend in court and didn't want to hold indefinitely. And so they were ready to let him go after the task force evaluated him. And he said he was afraid to go home.

KELLY: Now, the administration says that they have received assurances from the government in Algeria that he won't be mistreated. They've also said they have released other detainees to Algeria, and that that's gone OK.

Ms. ROSENBERG: Yes. And his lawyer, Ellen Lubell, says he's not afraid of the government. He's afraid of the Islamic resistance, that the stigma or the history of having been at Guantanamo would make him someone that the Islamic resistance there would want to recruit. And he wants none of it.

KELLY: I've seen criticism of the decision to send him back from human rights groups, saying that this case will create a dangerous precedent. Do you think it will?

Ms. ROSENBERG: Well, I think that the Obama administration has bent over backwards since they took over this process to try to find people third countries when they decided that there was a creditable fear of persecution. In this case, the Obama administration argued that he had nothing to fear.

KELLY: It almost speaks to the corner that the Obama administration finds itself backed into. As I was reading along, some of the headlines on this story said things like, "U.S. Expels Detainee to Possible Torture or Death." They're criticized for sending him back. I'm sure they would also be criticized if they kept on holding him after eight years at Guantanamo.

Ms. ROSENBERG: Well, that is the problem with Guantanamo. I mean, there's a number of people who say we can't go home. And the Obama administration created a position at the State Department to find third countries to resettle them. And they haven't always been successful. We haven't always found other countries to take them.

KELLY: And in this case, the only country that wanted to take him was Algeria.

Ms. ROSENBERG: Seems to be. You know, in the same transfer, they took a Syrian man to Cape Verde. And that was a situation where the State Department had decided that a Syrian can't go back to Syria. They have decided that some Algerians can go back to Algeria. But in the case of the Syrian, they found this, you know, island nation off the coast of Africa to take him and resettle him.

KELLY: It seems as though, at the moment, the Obama administration is pursing -you could almost call it a trickle policy of one detainee, two detainees, trying to move just one or two at a time. Is that a fair way of looking at it?

Ms. ROSENBERG: Completely accurate. You know, I was there last week for a hearing, and one guy left. You go and the population declines, declines, declines. When Obama took over, I believe the numbers were 240 detainees.

With this latest transfer, the number is 178 captive down there, 10 of whom who've been ordered released by the courts. And the administration is either challenging those releases or looking for third countries to settle them.

KELLY: Big picture: What is the time frame at this point for trying to close Guantanamo completely?

Ms. ROSENBERG: There is no time table. You know, when the president came in, he signed an executive order. He said empty those prison camps by January 22nd of 2010. They didn't, couldn't. The Congress wasn't particularly helpful. They had the idea at the White House that maybe they'd relocate some of these folks to the U.S. Congress has blocked it. And they're just not saying when they'll close it anymore. But they are saying they do plan to close it.

KELLY: Carol Rosenberg, thanks very much.

Ms. ROSENBERG: Thanks for inviting me.

KELLY: Carol Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald, and she's covered Guantanamo since the first detainees arrived back in 2002.

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