President Barack Obama is expected to transfer out 17 or 18 detainees from the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by the time he leaves office, reducing the facility’s population to 41 or 42, reports The New York Times (NYT).
The administration is required by law to notify Congress 30 days before a transfer, which means the last deadline to release Guantánamo prisoners before the end of the Obama era was Monday.
Citing Obama administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, NYT reports:
By late in the day [Monday], officials said, the administration had agreed to tell Congress that it intended to transfer 17 or 18 of the 59 remaining detainees at the prison; they would go to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. If all goes as planned, that will leave 41 or 42 prisoners in Guantánamo for Donald J. Trump’s administration.
Of the 59 captives still held at the Guantánamo prison, commonly known as Gitmo, at least 22 have been cleared for release by Obama’s parole-style board and 27 of the detainees have been deemed “forever prisoners,” or too dangerous to release.
The remaining 10 Gitmo detainees are still undergoing war crimes proceedings at military commissions, including six who are facing death-penalty tribunals, according to the Miami Herald.
Some of the 22 prisoners who have been cleared for release by the multi-agency Periodic Review Board (PRB) had been deemed “forever prisoners” at some point.
The too-dangerous-to-release designation has not prevented the Obama administration from liberating or clearing detainees for transfer in the past.
“Most who would be transferred next month are Yemenis,” notes the Times. “Because conditions in Yemen are chaotic, the Bush and the Obama administrations were reluctant to repatriate Yemeni detainees, so they stayed behind as others from more stable countries went home.”
Hoping in vain that conditions in Yemen would improve, the Obama administration did not resettle Yemeni detainees in its first term.
However, it began to do so in late 2014 when it became apparent to the Obama team that security in Yemen was deteriorating further.
President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to keep Gitmo operating and “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Meanwhile, Obama failed to keep his campaign promise to shut down the facility, a blemish on the president’s legacy that NYT attempted to downplay.
The newspaper quotes Elisa Massimino, the president of Human Rights First, and Matthew G. Olsen, Obama’s former National Counterterrorism Center director, as saying that despite the president’s failure to fulfill his promise, reducing the population and not abandoning efforts to empty the facility are major feats.
According to the latest estimate by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), 30 percent 0f Guantánamo detainees who have been released under both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush are suspected or confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activities
Under Obama, about 12 percent of the 161 detainees who had been released as of July 15 are suspected (11) or confirmed (9) to have returned to terrorism.
Former President Bush transferred out about three times more prisoners than Obama.
Nearly 35 percent of the 532 Bush-era transfers are suspected (75) or confirmed (113) to have re-engaged in terrorism.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have refused to go along with Obama’s plans to close the military prison, which includes the transfer of detainees onto to U.S. soil, a move that is banned by a bill signed into law by Obama himself.
The Pentagon submitted a proposal to Congress to close down the detention center earlier this year, requiring the banned move of prisoners to the United States.
Obama has blamed his inability to shut down Gitmo on “all these rules and norms and laws,” particularly “congressional restrictions.”