WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has transferred four Yemeni Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia, marking what are expected to be the first in a line of releases President Barack Obama will make before leaving office in two weeks.
The latest transfer of the four men drops the detainee population to 55 people. Nineteen of the detainees are on a list recommended for transfer, having been approved for release after an interagency review process.
Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad, 40, Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim, 41 or 42, Abdallah Yahya Yusif Al-Shibli, 48, and Muhammad Ali Abdallah Muhammad Bwazir, 35 or 36, were all low-level detainees captured in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terror attacks. None were ever charged with a crime.
Bwazir and Al-Shibli were approved for transfer by the Guantanamo Review Task Force in 2009 but were not able to be repatriated because Yemen was in a state of chaos and later legislation barred the transfer of detainees to zones of hostility. In 2014, the Obama administration decided to pursue transferring Yemeni nationals, instead of repatriating them.
Kanad and Ghanim were approved for release by the parole-like Periodic Review Board — made up of representatives from departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — in May and July respectively.
For these four men, including some currently cleared for release, the U.S. government must find a third party nation to accept them.
In a statement Thursday, the Pentagon thanked Saudi Arabia “for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
“The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a written statement.
The men will attend a “rehabilitation and de-radicalization program” in Saudi Arabia, according to Voice of America.
Obama had promised to close the center while campaigning in 2008, and has continuously argued the use of the prison “is contrary to our values” and “undermines our standing in the world.” His efforts to close the detention center have been met with opposition in Congress and the Pentagon.
During his tenure, Obama has refused to bring any new detainees to Guantanamo. Obama will hand off control of the prison to President-elect Donald Trump come Jan. 20, who has vowed to “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
However, Cook said Tuesday that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who must sign off on detainee releases, will continue to follow policy set by Obama.
“There is one commander in chief at a time, and the Secretary of Defense will continue to carry out his responsibilities as he sees appropriate,” Cook said.
The Obama administration has repatriated or resettled 179 prisoners, cutting the population from 242 when George W. Bush left office.