U.S. officials returned two Pakistani brothers to their home country Thursday after holding them without charges at the Guantanamo Bay military prison for almost two decades.
Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani were the latest detainees to be released from U.S. custody as the U.S. moves toward emptying and shutting down the prison. The George W. Bush administration set it up at a naval base in Cuba for extremist suspects rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
The brothers will be reunited with their families after formal questioning by Pakistani authorities, according to security officials and a Pakistani senator.
Pakistani Sen. Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, the chairman of the human rights committee in the upper house of Pakistan’s Parliament, tweeted Friday that the two brothers had reached the airport in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
He said the men were “innocently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for 21 years. There was no trial, no court proceedings, no charges against them. Congratulations on their release. Thank you Senate of Pakistan,” he wrote on Twitter.
Khan later told The Associated Press that the brothers were being sent to Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, where they lived with their families. He said he hoped the men will be reunited with their families soon.
The two brothers were originally transferred to U.S. custody after Pakistani officials arrested them in their home city of Karachi in 2002. They were sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004.
U.S. officials accused them of helping al Qaeda members with housing and other lower-level logistical support.
The brothers alleged that they were tortured while in CIA custody before being transferred to Guantanamo. U.S. military records describe the two as providing little intelligence of value or recanting statements made during interrogations on the grounds they were obtained by physical abuse.
The U.S. military announced their repatriation in a statement. It gave no immediate information on any conditions set by Pakistan regarding their return there.
“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Government of Pakistan and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the Defense Department said.
Guantanamo at its peak in 2003 held about 600 people whom the U.S. considered terrorists. Supporters of using the detention facility for such figures contend it prevented attacks. Critics say the military detention and courts subverted human rights and constitutional rights and undermined the United States’ standing abroad.
Thirty-two detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 18 eligible for transfer if stable third-party countries can be found to take them, the Pentagon said. Many are from Yemen, a country considered too plagued with war and extremist groups and too devoid of services for freed Yemeni detainees to be sent there.
Nine of the detainees are defendants in slow-moving military-run tribunals. Two others have been convicted.