In a statement released this afternoon, the Pentagon announced that 15 Guantanamo Bay detainees were released on Saturday to the United Arab Emirates – making this the single largest release of detainees to be transferred out of the infamous detention facility during the Obama administration.
According to the statement released by the Pentagon, the transfer includes 12 Yemeni nationals and three Afghans, all of whom were deemed to no longer pose a threat to the country’s national security according to the Periodic Review Board formed in 2009 specifically for the purpose of reviewing Guantanamo inmates cases. The board is made up of representatives from six U.S. government agencies.
When Obama took office there were 242 detainees. This latest transfer brings the remaining population at Guantanamo down to 61. About 780 inmates have been housed in the US military-run facility since the facility opened in 2002 to hold foreign fighters suspected of links to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Many of those within the latest batch of released prisoners had been held without charge for the last 14 years.
The Obama administration has struggled for years to find a third country that would accept the Yemeni detainees because they can’t go home due the on-going civil war in their country.
“The United States coordinated with the Government of the United Arab Emirates to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the Pentagon said.
The United Arab Emirates has accepted 21 inmates, according to a comprehensive database maintained by The New York Times. Afghanistan has accepted the most, at 203 inmates. Once transferred, former inmates are usually freed subject to supervision and undergoing rehabilitation programs.
Obama Moves To Fulfill Campaign Promises Despite Republican Obstructionism
Although the push to empty Guantanamo began in 2006 under the Bush administration, the Obama administration has faced an uphill battle with congress in it’s attempt to complete the task. President Obama has worked for years to make good on a campaign promise to shut down the prison, submitting his first request the day after his first inauguration on January 22, 2009. His administration has since submitted numerous proposals to congress for approval of his plan to move the final detainees to maximum-security facilities on U.S. soil while they await trial. All of those proposals have fallen on deaf ears.
Some 780 inmates have been held at Guantanamo since it opened in 2002. 532 of which were released during the Bush administration between the two year period from 2006 to 2008, yet only 181 have been released on Obama’s watch – largely due to republican obstruction in congress.
This past February, the President presented Congress with a new closure plan for Guantanamo, which he says serves only to stoke anti-US resentment and fuel jihadist recruitment.
Last week, Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte renewed calls to keep Guantanamo open and published an unclassified report on 107 current and former detainees that she said highlighted their terrorist pasts.
“The more Americans understand about the terrorist activities and affiliations of these detainees, the more they will oppose the administration’s terribly misguided plans to release them,” she said.
Despite congressional obstruction, the Obama administration has in recent months accelerated the rate at which detainees who have been approved for transfer are released from the facility. Although that isn’t likely to continue at the same pace because today’s announcement means that only 19 inmates remain who have been cleared for transfer.
Today’s announcement drew fierce opposition from republican lawmakers who have in recent years gone so far as passing legislation that prevents the Department of Defense from transferring the remaining prisoners to U.S. soil to stand trial.
“In its race to close Gitmo, the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that put American lives at risk. Once again, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican. “I fear we will be dealing with the consequences of this recklessness for years to come.”
Amnesty International USA applauded today’s announcement as “a powerful sign that President Obama is serious about closing Guantanamo before he leaves office.”
In a statement to Agency France-Presse, Amnesty’s director of national security and human rights, Naureen Shah said “It’s a significant repudiation of the idea that Guantanamo is going to be open for business for the indefinite future.”
“We are at an extremely dangerous and pivotal point where if President Obama fails to close Guantanamo then the next administration could bring more detainees there,” Shah said.
Amnesty’s fears are actually not that far-fetched
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has pledged numerous times to keep the facility open should he be elected this November. In a speech this past February, he pledged to “load” Guantanamo “with some bad dudes” – a clear indication that he foresees utilizing the facility to hold ISIS detainees.
Although she has not emphasized it’s closure on the campaign trail, while serving as Secretary of State under President Obama, Hillary Clinton supported the Guantanamo closure plan and said the prison’s notoriety had damaged America’s reputation abroad and undermined U.S. diplomatic initiatives.
Latest Detainees Released To United Arab Emirates
Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh is a 39- or 40-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained in mid-December 2001 after voluntarily surrendering to Pakistani forces. He was turned over to U.S. forces on January 2, 2002, and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on February 11, 2002.
Mahmoud Abd al Aziz Abd al Mujahid is a 38- or 39-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001 while attempting to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He was turned over to U.S. forces on December 26, 2001, sent to the Kandahar Detention Facility, and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on January 11, 2002.
Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmad is a 36-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001 while attempting to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistani border. He was turned over to U.S. forces on December 26, 2001, sent to the Kandahar Detention Facility, and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on January 16, 2002.
Abdul Rahman Abdul Abu Ghityh Sulayman is a 36- or 37-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001 while attempting to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistani border. He was turned over to U.S. forces on January 2, 2002 and sent to Guantanamo on February 11, 2002.
Abdul al Saleh is a 36- or 37-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Afghan forces on or around November 22, 2001 while attempting to retreat from Kunduz to Kandahar. He was turned over to U.S. forces on December 28, 2001 and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on February 9, 2002.
Mohammed Nasir Yahya Khusruf is a 66-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense and turned over to U.S. Forces on December 15, 2001. He was transferred to Guantanamo on May 3, 2002.
Abdel Qadir Hussein al Mudhaffari is a 39- or 40-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001 while attempting to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He was turned over to U.S. forces on December 26, 2001, and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on January 16, 2002.
Mohammed Ahmad Said al Edah is a 53- or 54-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces in November 2001 after crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He was turned over to U.S. forces on December 26, 2001 and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on January 16, 2002.
Zahar Omar Hamis Bin Hamdoun is a 36-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces on February 2, 2002 during a raid. He was turned over to U.S. forces on February 27, 2002 and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on May 5, 2002.
He traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 and later apparently acted as a weapons and explosives trainer.
A Pentagon profile from September 2015 said he expressed dislike of the U.S., which they identified as “an emotion that probably is motivated more by frustration over his continuing detention than by a commitment to global jihad.”
Jamil Ahmed Said Nassir is a 45- or 46-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces on March 28, 2002 during a raid. He was turned over to U.S. forces sometime in May 2002 and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on August 5, 2002.
According to Amnesty International, Obaidullah alleged that he was “tortured and subjected to other cruel treatment” while in U.S. military custody. He allegedly admitted during interrogations to acquiring and planting anti-tank mines to target U.S. and other coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan.
In clearing him for transfer, the review board said he hasn’t expressed any anti-U.S. sentiment or intent to re-engage in militant activities. However, a Pentagon detainee profile also said he provided little information and they had little “insight into his current mindset.”
Ayoub Murshid Ali Saleh is a 38-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces during a raid on September 11, 2002. Shortly thereafter he was turned over to U.S. forces and was subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on October 28, 2002.
Bashir Nasir Ali al Marwalah is a 36-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was detained by Pakistani forces during a raid on September 11, 2002. He was turned over to U.S. forces on or around October 11, 2002 and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on October 28, 2002.
Mohammed Kamin is a 37- or 38-year-old citizen of Afghanistan. He was detained by U.S. forces on May 14, 2003 at a military checkpoint in downtown Khowst, Afghanistan. He was transferred to Guantanamo on September 19, 2004.
Hamidullah is a 52- or 53-year-old citizen of Afghanistan. He was detained by the Afghan National Army during on raid on July 31, 2003, transferred to U.S. forces shortly thereafter, and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo on November 21, 2003.