WASHINGTON — A national security board on Friday cleared a Libyan man who has been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge for 20 years to be transferred to another country if one can be found to take him, continuing the Biden administration’s effort to reduce the detainee population at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
The decision in the case of Ismail Ali Faraj Ali Bakush, 54, means that diplomats are now seeking to reach security agreements for the transfer of 22 of the 36 men currently held as law of war prisoners at Guantánamo.
Mr. Bakush is the last so-called low value prisoner being held as an indefinite detainee in the war on terror that began in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In an apparent nod to the instability of Libya, the Periodic Review Board — an interagency group with representatives from the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies and various cabinet agencies — recommended that he be transferred to a third country “with strong rehabilitation capabilities,” integration support and a willingness to monitor his activities and restrict his travel.
Mr. Bakush was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, in May 2002 and sent to Guantánamo Bay three months later. A U.S. intelligence report from January described him as an explosives expert who “probably provided operational support to key Al Qaeda figures.” At Guantánamo, he was held as a member of the Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which the State Department designated as a terrorist organization from 2004 to 2015.
Three of Guantánamo’s prisoners, all previously held by the C.I.A. as “high-value detainees,” are currently considered indefinite detainees, deemed too dangerous to release but held without criminal charges. Eleven others have been charged with war crimes, the majority of their cases still in pretrial proceedings.
The 22 prisoners at Guantánamo who are eligible for transfer include 21 men who have been approved for transfer with security guarantees to their homeland or other countries, some cleared since the first year of the Obama administration. The other is Majid Khan, a Pakistani man who on March 1 completed a war crimes sentence for serving as a Qaeda courier but cannot be repatriated because he became a witness for the United States against other prisoners.
The Biden administration recently appointed a former career diplomat, Tina S. Kaidanow, to the role of overseeing transfer negotiations. Her title is special representative for Guantánamo affairs. She had previously worked as an adviser in the Navy International Programs Office.
The Guantánamo job had been handled in recent months by Ian C. Moss, a former chief of staff in the Obama-era office that negotiated transfers from the prison. Mr. Moss is now instead responsible for diplomatic efforts to help resolve the status of tens of thousands of Islamic State members and their families, who are held in northeast Syria, and repatriate some of them.