June 23, 2016 / 2:02 AM / 2 years ago

U.S. transfers Guantanamo detainee to Montenegro

(This June 22 story corrects Al-Rahabi’s age to 36 from 37 in paragraph 3)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Yemeni man who had been held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo for 14 years has been transferred to Montenegro, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, as President Barack Obama pushes to close the facility before leaving office in January.

The transfer of Abdel Malik Ahmed Abdel Wahab al-Rahabi leaves 79 detainees remaining at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Al-Rahabi, 36, who was brought to Guantanamo in January 2002, had been accused of being a bodyguard for the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon documents.

A U.S. review board found in December 2014 that al-Rahabi was no longer a significant security threat to the United States and recommended his transfer, the Pentagon said.

“The United States is grateful to the Government of Montenegro for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon said.

“The United States coordinated with the Government of Montenegro to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” it said.

Obama in February gave Congress a plan for shuttering the prison, but he faces stiff opposition from many Republican lawmakers, as well as some fellow Democrats.

Obama’s blueprint for closing Guantanamo prison calls for speeding up transfers and bringing several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States. U.S. law bars such transfers to the mainland, and Obama has not ruled out doing so by use of executive action.

Guantanamo prisoners were rounded up overseas when the United States became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

The facility, opened by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to accusations of torture.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler and Michael Perry

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