Last Sudanese prisoners return home from Guantanamo Bay
KHARTOUM - The last Sudanese prisoners to be released from US detention at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba arrived home Thursday, as US President Barack Obama accelerates efforts to close the controversial facility.
US military personnel helped Mohammed Noor Uthman and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris onto the exit stairway of a US Air Force transport plane after it landed in Khartoum.
Both former prisoners wore Muslim skull caps, and the bearded Idris smiled as a Sudanese official greeted him.
The United States announced on Wednesday that it had transferred the two men from the controversial prison at a US naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba.
Uthman, 51, and Idris, 52, were both considered by the US military to be members of Al-Qaeda.
The transfers came as Obama accelerated repatriations of Guantanamo detainees to meet his campaign promise to close the prison built to house terrorism suspects captured around the world.
His predecessor George W. Bush opened the facility after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Abubakr Elsiddig could not immediately say whether any restrictions would be placed on Uthman and Idris in their home country.
"I understand that they will be taken for a medical checkup," he said.
A US defence official confirmed they were the last Sudanese held at Guantanamo.
Idris was seen by the Pentagon as a veteran member of the terrorist network who swore loyalty to its now slain leader Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.
He was among the first detainees to arrive at Guantanamo Bay on January 11, 2002.
Uthman was sent there in May of that year.
In exchange for a guilty plea to terrorism offences in February 2011, part of Uthman's 14-year sentence was suspended and he completed his term on December 3.
Idris, who had been cleared for transfer since 2009 by an interagency task force, was released following an October order from the US District Court in Washington.
"As directed by the president's January 22, 2009, executive order, the task force conducted a comprehensive review of Idris's case, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, in making that designation," Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale said.
"The United States coordinated with the government of Sudan regarding appropriate security measures and to ensure that these transfers are consistent with our humane treatment policy," Breasseale said in a statement.
A senior Sudanese foreign ministry official, Abdulaziz Hassan Salih, told the state SUNA news agency that the prisoners' release came after "intensive communication" between Foreign Minister Ali Karti and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Salih said Uthman and Idris had "suffered" in prison.
Detainees have complained of mistreatment, and many were held for years without trial while others like Uthman faced special military tribunals.
In all, 12 Sudanese have been repatriated, among hundreds of Guantanamo detainees transferred to more than two dozen countries since 2002.
In July 2012, Bin Laden's former cook and driver Ibrahim al-Qosi returned to Sudan after more than a decade in Guantanamo.
US Navy SEAL commandos killed Bin Laden in a raid on his Pakistan hideout in May 2011.
Bin Laden lived in Sudan for about five years until he was forced to leave in 1996.
A year later, the US imposed sanctions on Sudan partly for its alleged support of international terrorism.
Among other Sudanese who returned home from Guantanamo was Sami al-Haj, a cameraman for pan-Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.
He was held for six years without charge before his release in 2008.
Earlier this week, two Saudi prisoners were repatriated from Guantanamo.
The prison's first commander said last week that it "should never have been opened."
In an article published in the Detroit Free Press, retired Major General Michael Lehnert said he realised early on that many detainees "should never have been sent in the first place," and that "they had little intelligence value, and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes."
Obama has acknowledged that Guantanamo, where 158 prisoners remain, has hurt the United States' global standing.