Kathleen T. Rhem/Defense Department file photo

Defense Transfers Detainee to Mauritania, Leaving 113 At Guantanamo

The Obama administration continues to whittle the military detention center’s population.

The Pentagon transferred another detainee from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the West African country of Mauritania early Thursday morning.

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, 45, had been held at Guantanamo for 13 years and one day. A Mauritanian citizen, Aziz had been recommended for continued detention as recently as 2008, but had been cleared for transfer since January 2010.

In 2002, he was captured by Pakistani intelligence services, transferred to U.S. custody at Bagram in Afghanistan, and moved to Cuba. A February 2008 Defense Department assessment, published by the New York Times’ Guantanamo Docket, said Aziz was a member of al Qaeda who had fought in Afghanistan and had access to “information of significant intelligence value,” but “has been uncooperative with interrogators and remains unexploited.” The assessment deemed him a high risk, likely to pose a threat to “the U.S., its interests and, allies” — and of high intelligence value.

The six agencies that comprise the task force for reviewing transfers unanimously approved the move, according to the Defense Department release Thursday.

After a virtual standstill at the beginning of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s tenure prompted tensions with the White House, Thursday’s move follows a few recent transfers, such as two to Morocco and Saudi Arabia, respectively, in September. The Obama administration is continuing to whittle away at the population to strengthen its case that the military prison should be closed.

Obama vetoed the annual defense policy bill for the first time in his administration one week ago, in part due to restrictions intended to freeze out such transfers, both abroad and to the U.S. Renewed efforts to study potential Guantanamo alternatives on U.S. soil in order to inform a closure plan that the White House has been promising for months have been met with early outcry from lawmakers and state government officials.  

The House has set a vote on Nov. 5 to override the veto, but leadership has acknowledged it doesn’t have the votes to do so.

Today, 113 detainees remain at Guantanamo.