Obama’s Largest Gitmo Release: 15 Prisoners Sent to UAE, Including 2 ‘Forever Prisoners’

Guantanamo Prisoner REUTERSMichelle Shephard
Reuters/Michelle Shephard

The Obama administration on Monday evening announced the transfer of 12 Yemenis and three Afghans from the U.S. military detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), dramatically bringing down the overall prison population to 61.

President Barack Obama, who has vowed to shut down the facility, is expected to reduce the detainee population to no more than 56 by the end of summer. The recent transfer reportedly took place Saturday night.

At least two of the detainees sent to the UAE — Yemenis Mahmud Abd Al Aziz al-Mujahid and Zahar Omar Hamis bin Hamdoun — are former “forever prisoners” cleared for release by President Barack Obama’s parole-style panel formally known as the Periodic Review Board (PRB).

“Forever prisoner” refers to “an indefinite detainee considered too dangerous to release but never charged with a crime,” explains the Miami Herald.

Former “forever prisoner” Mujahid was identified as a suspected Osama bin Laden bodyguard for years.

The recent decision to release the 15 Guantánamo prisoners amounts to the largest detainee transfers since Obama was inaugurated for his first term in January 2009.

In a statement announcing the transfer, the Pentagon noted that six of the 15 “were unanimously approved for transfer” by Obama’s multi-agency Guantanamo Review Task Force, which took into account “security issues” when making its decision.

Meanwhile, the interagency PRB determined that for the remaining nine, including the two “forever prisoners,” the “continued law of war detention” did “not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Miami Herald reports:

The 12 Yemeni and three Afghan men sent to the Emirates range in age from 36 to 66. Most arrived at Guantánamo when they were in their early 20s a dozen or more years ago. None was ever convicted of a crime, although the Bush-era prosecutor briefly swore out charges against two of the Afghans in cases that the Obama war crimes prosecutor never pursued.

A single U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane whisked the 15 captives from the remote outpost Saturday night, administration sources said, in the largest single transfer of the Obama administration…

Among the 61 detainees who remain at the Guantánamo facility, also known as Gitmo, 20 have been approved for resettlement or repatriation, 34 are believed to merit continued detention, and seven are facing criminal charges and awaiting a verdict.

Referring to the 20 — soon after the Pentagon announced the recent transfer — Amb. Lee Wolosky, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for shutting down Gitmo, said, “We expect to substantially complete our mandate to repatriate or resettle all approved-for-transfer detainees in the coming weeks.”

The 12 transferred Yemenis have been identified as: Mujahid, 36; Hamdoun, 36; Majid Ahmed, 36; Bashir al Marwalah, 37; Saeed Sarem Jarabh, 38; Ayub Murshid Ali Salih, 38; Mohammed Khusruf, 66; Abd al Muhsin Salih al Busi, 37; Abd al Rahman Sulayman, 37; Mohammed al Adahi, 54; Abdel Qadir al Mudhaffari, 40; and Abdul Muhammed al Muhajari, 46.

Among the three Afghans are: Haji Hamdullah, in his 50s; Obaidullah, 36; and Mohammed Kamin, 38. Obaidullah only has one name.

The Miami Herald points out:

The U.S. is not repatriating Yemenis and routinely resettles them in third countries willing to provide rehabilitation and other support. The last Afghan repatriation was in December 2014.

Both Yemen and Afghanistan are war-ravaged nations. The Pentagon did not specifically say whether any of the 15 detainees would remain in custody in the UAE.

However, the Herald reports:

[Obama] administration officials, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said the Emirates have a residential reintegration program that restricts the men’s movements and evaluates them for future living in a type of halfway house… Family visits are permitted, an official said…

The newspaper adds that of the 61 prisoners still being held at Gitmo, 14 are “former CIA prisoners secluded in a secret site at Guantánamo called Camp 7,” and the remaining 47 are considered “low-value detainees” who are “scattered across three of four lockups capable of holding about 350 captives.”

BBC notes:

Afghans, Saudis and Yemenis have made up more than 60% of the prisoners [held at the facility since it opened in January 2002], although about 50 different nationalities have been represented.

President Obama has approved “forever prisoners” and some who still pose a threat for release.

According to the latest estimate by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), nearly 30 percent of released prisoners are suspected or confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activities. Some have been linked to the deaths of Americans.


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