GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CN) - The Pentagon announced the transfer of two detainees back to their home in Saudi Arabia, hours before another round of military commissions kicked off for the suspected Sept. 11, 2001 plotters.
Little is known about Saudi detainees Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood, other than through documents released through WikiLeaks and transcripts and summaries of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and Administrative Review Board.
Hamood, 48, has been held in Guantanamo since June 2002, according to a profile released by WikiLeaks.
Pakistani forces captured Qahtani, 35, who was believed to have been fighting with the Taliban near Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2001.
Neither of the men was charged with a crime and both were released "with appropriate security and humane treatment assurances," according to the Pentagon's press release.
Human rights activists criticized the Pentagon's recent transfer of two Algerian men who claimed they would face political persecution back home.
Government officials told the Miami Herald that Qahtani and Hamood's release, on the other hand, was voluntary.
The pace of prisoner transfers has picked up since U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the appointment of Paul Lewis as a special envoy tasked with closing Guantanamo Bay prisons and restarted the "Periodic Review Board" process in October.
There are now 160 prisoners inside Guantanamo's detention centers following that announcement, more than half of whom have been cleared for release.
"The US has made real progress in responsibly transferring Guantanamo detainees despite the burdensome legislative restrictions that have impeded our efforts," Lewis said in a statement.
Congress, which effectively blocked spending any money transferring Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil three years ago, recently eased some of those restrictions in this year's defense appropriations bill.
Lewis, who is working with State Department lawyer Cliff Sloan on closing Guantanamo, added that they are "committed to facilitating additional responsible transfers to the maximum extent possible as we work to reduce the detainee population and ultimately close the facility."
Prosecution is unlikely to thin those numbers considerably.
On Sunday, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, said at a press conference here that the number of detainees who could be prosecuted is in the "low 20s," for alleged war crimes committed before 2006.
Meanwhile, the military commissions of the Sept. 11 suspects kicked off on Monday with more than 40 motions being litigated in a classified session. Public sessions resume on Tuesday and are expected to continue through the rest of the week.
If Guantanamo's prisons close, the military commissions could migrate to United States soil, a possibility President Barack Obama explored in a speech at National Defense University in May.
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