U.S. Releases 4 Guantanamo Bay Prisoners To Afghanistan In A Landmark Agreement

Four days after President Obama announced the United States would reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. government released four prisoners from Guantanamo Bay Friday evening — marking another step forward in improving U.S. foreign relations. The four detainees are being transferred to Afghanistan, where they will no longer be imprisoned, the Pentagon said on Saturday. The transfer was reportedly made at the request of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, and is the first release of its kind since 2009.

The four men, Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir, were flown to the Afghanistan capital of Kabul overnight, the Pentagon said. In a statement, the Defense Department thanked the Afghan government for its cooperation as the U.S. government works to transfer its remaining detainees:

The United States is grateful to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Saturday's release leaves 132 detainees at the notorious U.S. prison in Cuba. Just last week, the U.S. government transferred six GITMO detainees —hailing from Syria, Palestine and Tunisia — to Uruguay in an effort to reduce the prison population. Those six detainees were reportedly imprisoned at GITMO for 12 years. According to Al Jazeera America, the six men were never charged for their crimes, and had been approved for transfer for an undisclosed number of years.

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Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay through an executive order when he took office in 2009, but the process has been slow and complicated. The president also made no reference to GITMO or his continued efforts to release detainees in 2015 at his end-of-the-year press conference on Friday.

As the president continues to broker prisoner transfers with foreign relations, at least he knows he has a newfound diplomat on his side. Pope Francis, who reportedly played a key role in fostering the new relations between the United States and Cuba, recently urged Obama to shutter the notorious prison because of its human rights violations. Francis feels very strongly about prisoners' rights, having spoken out against solitary confinement, brutal conditions and life-term's in the past. Just last week, the pope sent Christmas gifts and personal messages to inmates at New York's Sing Sing Prison, with the promise of prayer.

According to Vatican Radio, the pontiff's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Vatican last Monday to discuss the future closure of Guantanamo Bay. Kerry even asked for the Vatican's assistance.

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