The Pentagon announced Saturday that six Guantánamo Bay detainees, all Yemenis, had been transferred out of the military facility and into Oman, bordering their native country. Among the group were two men believed to have served as bodyguards for Osama Bin Laden.
Pentagon officials confirmed to the media that the six men left for Oman on Friday, the first such release of detainees since January. The move is intended to slowly close down Guantánamo completely, and the men are not expected to be restricted in travel by the government of Oman. “We are taking all possible steps to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and to close the detention facility in a responsible manner,” said a National Security Council spokesperson on Saturday.
The move has received intense condemnation from opponents who warn that allowing suspected terrorists to move freely near the Yemeni theater of war at this time is an unnecessary risk for the United States. “Despite the high terror threat to our country, the president continues to open the jail cells at Guantanamo Bay, giving potential terrorists the ability to return to the fight,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, on Saturday in response to the release, calling the move “reckless.”
There are currently 116 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, less than half of the population when President Obama first took office. In 2008, President Obama vowed to close down the entire facility on his first day in office.
These new releases follow a report by Defense One in early June quoting a “defense official” stating that up to ten detainees would be released out of Guantánamo Bay in June. “I just talked to the National Security Council and State [Department], so we can say maybe up to 10 — no specific timeframe, but in the near future,” he said. “And then we’re actively engaged with a number of countries in additional negotiations regarding the 57 that are eligible.”
Reports estimate that as many as 28% of released Guantánamo Bay detainees have returned to the theater of war in some capacity or are under suspicion of attempting to return. The 2013 study revealing this, combined with Oman’s proximity to Yemen and the current civil war developing there have alarmed a number of observers, including Rep. McCaul, who warn the detainees could very well return to violence upon being freed in the region.
Yemen is currently the site of a struggle between Shiite Houthi rebels, who forced President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee the capital, Sanaa, and Hadi supporters. Shortly after Hadi’s departure to southern Aden in March and advances made by the Houthis, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced it would enter the fray with an air campaign and mobilized 150,000 soldiers in preparation for a prolonged war to dispel the Houthi threat.