Pakistani brothers released after being held for 20 years without charge at Guantanamo Bay

Two Pakistani brothers held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay military prison for two decades were freed by U.S. officials and returned home on Friday, officials said.

Detention centre utilized after 9/11 attacks now holds 32 people, down from a peak of about 600

Three flags and a sign on a brick wall that says, 'Camp Justice' is shown.
This Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba is shown in a Sept. 7, 2021, photo. The Pentagon confirmed the release of Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani, arrested in 2002 on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. (Paul Handley/AFP/Getty Images)

Two Pakistani brothers held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay military prison for two decades were freed by U.S. officials and returned home on Friday, officials said.

They will be reunited with their families after a formal questioning by Pakistani authorities, according to security officials and a Pakistani senator.

Pakistan arrested Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani on suspicion of their links to al-Qaeda in 2002 in Karachi, the country's largest southern port city. 

The two brothers arrived at an airport in the capital, Islamabad, on Friday. Pakistani Sen. Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, the chairman of the human rights committee in the upper house of Pakistan's Parliament, tweeted Friday that the two brothers had reached Islamabad airport.

LISTEN |When  Carol Rosenberg, who's covered Guantanamo since 2002, speaks to CBC in 2021:

This month marks 20 years since the opening of a U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, despite repeated U.S. presidential promises to close it. We talk to Ramzi Kassem, a professor of law at the City University of New York, who has also defended 14 detainees at Guantanamo; and Carol Rosenberg, a military affairs reporter for the New York Times and author of Guantánamo Bay: The Pentagon's Alcatraz of the Caribbean.

He said the men were "innocently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for 21 years. There was no trial, no court proceedings, no charges against them. Congratulations on their release. Thank you Senate of Pakistan," he wrote on Twitter.

Khan later told The Associated Press that the brothers were being sent to Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, where they lived with their families. He said he hoped the men will be reunited with their families soon.

The releases come months after a 75-year-old Pakistani, Saifullah Paracha, was freed from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

Amnesty International tweet on Rabbanis, others eligible for release:

Accused of helping al-Qaeda members

The brothers' release was the latest U.S. move toward emptying and shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Former president George W. Bush's administration set it up to house extremist suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001. al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.

U.S. officials accused the brothers of helping al-Qaeda members with housing and other logistical support. The brothers alleged torture while in CIA custody before being transferred to Guantanamo. U.S. military records describe the two as providing little intelligence of value, and that they did not recant statements made during interrogations on the grounds they were obtained by physical abuse.

The U.S. Defence Department announced their repatriation in a statement the previous day.

On Friday, a close family friend of the two brothers told the AP that Pakistani authorities had formally informed the brothers' family about the release and their return to Pakistan.

The family friend, who is Pakistani and refused to be identified for security reasons, said the younger Rabbani learned painting during his detention at Guantanamo Bay, and that he was expected to bring with him some of those paintings.

He said Ahmed Rabbani frequently went on hunger strikes and prison officials fed him through a tube. He said the man remained on the nutritional supplements.

LISTEN | A closer look at the prison at Guantanamo Bay: 

The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open. And while advocates including former detainees fight to close it down, the legacy of detention and torture live on. This is the first of a three-part series in which IDEAS producer, Naheed Mustafa, peers into the house the War on Terror built. *This episode originally aired on Dec. 3, 2021.

Guantanamo at its peak in 2003 held about 600 people considered terrorists by the U.S. Supporters of using the detention facility for such figures say doing so prevented attacks.

There were 40 detainees when President Joe Biden, a Democrat, took office in 2021. Biden has said he hopes to close the facility. The federal government is barred by law from transferring Guantanamo detainees to U.S. mainland prisons.

Critics say the military detention and courts subverted human rights and constitutional rights and undermined American standing abroad.

Thirty-two detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 18 eligible for transfer if stable third-party countries can be found to take them, the Pentagon said. Many are from Yemen, a country considered too plagued with war and extremist groups and too devoid of services for freed Yemeni detainees to be sent there.

Nine of the detainees are defendants in slow-moving military-run tribunals. Two others have been convicted.