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U.S. Transfers 9 Yemeni Detainees from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The Pentagon has announced the transfer of nine Yemeni detainees out of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Saudi Arabia as President Barack Obama prepares to visit the Gulf kingdom and continues his efforts to shut down the U.S. military prison.

The Pentagon made the announcement of Saturday’s transfers in a statement.

All nine prisoners are from Saudi Arabia’s next-door neighbor, Yemen, home to a war that has been raging since March 2015 between a Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, and Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.

The Saudi alliance, primarily made up of Sunni-led nations, has also been trying to restore the internationally backed government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Overall, the majority of the 80 detainees who still remain at Guantánamo are from Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, and finds itself in the middle of a fragile United Nations-brokered ceasefire between warring sides. Peace negotiations were expected to resume Monday, but were delayed.

“Saudi Arabia runs a rehabilitation program to help former jihadists re-enter society. It has only taken in one other Yemeni prisoner, in 2007, and has mostly repatriated its own citizens from the facility,” reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). “The nine prisoners involved in the latest transfer had been in the Guantánamo detention center since 2002, and none had been charged with a crime.”

All nine prisoners arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday evening, the kingdom has reportedly confirmed. A Pentagon statement announcing the transfer indicated that at least one of the individuals will be released without restrictions.

The Pentagon reveals:

On April 17, 2015, the Periodic Review Board consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined continued law of war detention of [Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed] Al-Sabri does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Al-Sabri was recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board.

Of the 80 detainees held at Guantánamo, 26 have been cleared for transfer.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the WSJ reports that the Obama administration expects to release all prisoners approved for transfer by the end of the summer.

“Many of the prisoners remaining at the facility are Yemeni and are difficult to relocate because the U.S. must find third countries to accept them because of unrest in Yemen,” notes the WSJ. “Saturday’s transfer comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia in coming days and is the largest single movement of prisoners in 2016.”

In a statement, the Pentagon expressed gratitude, thanking the Saudis for taking the prisoners:

The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo 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.

Saudi Arabia confirmed that the nine detainees arrived in the kingdom Saturday evening.

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reports that the Saudi ministry of interior said Yemeni President Hadi requested the transfer, which was approved by Saudi King Salman.

Data compiled by The New York Times (NYT) provides background information on the detainees:

  1. Ahmed Umar Abdullah al Hikimi is a 43-or 44-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  2. Abdul Rahman Mohamed Saleh Naser is a 35-or 36-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  3. Ali Yahya Mahdi al Raimi is a 32-or 33-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  4. Tarek Ali Abdullah Ahmed Baada is a 37-or 38-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to an undetermined country on April 16, 2016.
  5. Mohammed Abdullah al Hamiri is a 33-or 34-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  6. Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman is a 35-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  7. Abdul Rahman Umir al Qyati is a 39-or 40-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  8. Mansoor Muhammed Ali Qattaa is a 33-or 34-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for transfer. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.
  9. Mashur Abdallah Muqbil Ahmed al Sabri is a 37-or 38-year-old citizen of Yemen. He was transferred to Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2016.

Soon after assuming the highest office of the land in 2009, President Obama, through executive order, established an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force to review all cases and release those deemed eligible based on various factors, including security issues.

As required by law, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter informed the Republican-controlled Congress of the Obama administration’s intent to release the prisoners Saturday to Saudi Arabia.

President Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantánamo prison, but has met resistance from a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon has submitted a proposal to Congress to close down the facility, which includes a provision to transfer prisoners deemed too dangerous for release to U.S. soil.

Transferring Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. is prohibited by law.

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