GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 16 (UPI) — Nine Yemeni detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay are being transferred to Saudi Arabia, leaving the total population at the controversial facility standing at 80 inmates.
The move comes after nearly a decade of negotiations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which has called for the prison’s closure for years, but was reluctant to take in any of the prisoners due to domestic political concerns.
The nine Yemeni men all have family in Saudi Arabia and will be enrolled in a program the kingdom has created to try to rehabilitate people who have been radicalized. U.S. officials say the program has had success, in part because it includes enrollees’ families in an attempt to normalize would-be jihadists.
The nine inmates were eventually chosen to go to Saudi Arabia because of their family ties there, The New York Times reported.
The effort comes as the Obama administration moves to permanently close the controversial prison, which was created under President George W. Bush in 2002 as a place to house suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush later attempted to close the prison, but the problem of what to do with the detainees there has plagued the government for years.
President Barack Obama pledged in his 2008 campaign to close Guantanamo Bay but ran into many of the same problems as his predecessor. Congress also weighed in, passing a law the prohibited the administration from moving any of the detainees onto American soil.
That has left the administration pleading with allies to take in some of the detainees. Some have been returned to their home countries. Others have been given over to allies, mostly in eastern Europe.
The population at Guantanamo Bay was 242 when Obama entered office.
One of the inmates being transferred is Tariq Ba Odah, 38, one of several inmates who has been on a years-long hunger strike. Guards have been force-feeding him with a tube. Odah had sued the U.S. government, asking for his release on medical grounds, a claim the Justice Department disputed in court prior to negotiating Odah’s release as part of the Saudi Arabia deal.