(CNN) — The United States transferred two brothers detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to Pakistan, the Defense Department announced Thursday, as part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to close the prison.
Abdul Rabbani and Mohammed Rabbani were detained during the decades-long US war on terror for operating safe houses used by members of the al Qaeda terror group, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The brothers, who have never been charged with any crime, were repatriated to Pakistan after it was determined that their detention was no longer necessary to protect against a “continuing and significant threat” to the United States, the Defense Department said in a statement.
“The United States appreciates the willingness of the government of Pakistan and other partners to support continued US efforts focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the Pentagon said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had notified Congress in January of his intention to repatriate the Rabbani brothers to Pakistan.
His transfer comes after the Pentagon announced the transfer of another Guantánamo prisoner, Majid Khan, to Belize earlier this month. Khan was convicted of terrorism offenses in 2012 and completed his sentence.
Khan lived in the US from 1996 until early 2002 and was suspected of helping al Qaeda plan attacks in the US and elsewhere. Authorities believed that he joined al Qaeda after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The prison in Guantanamo
There are currently 32 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay, 18 of whom are eligible for transfer, according to the Department of Defense.
To close the prison, President Joe Biden would have to transfer the 32 detainees to other prisons or locations. When former President Barack Obama wanted to try the five accused of planning 9/11 in New York City, he faced a swift public and political backlash.
Obama also promised to close Guantánamo when he campaigned for the White House, establishing the office of military commissions and the Periodic Review Board system during his tenure, but failed to close the prison during his eight years in office.
The center, which was originally opened in 2002, was intended to be a place where suspects in the war on terror could be interrogated. But the prisoners have been detained indefinitely, many without charge or trial and subjected to reported abuses.
As the US war on terror progressed, the detention center became an international symbol of US rights abuses in the post-9/11 era.
— CNN’s Paul LeBlanc and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.