Washington (AFP) – The Pentagon on Saturday announced the transfer of nine Yemeni inmates from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, bringing the remaining population at the controversial military prison down to 80.
The United States has in recent months accelerated the rate at which detainees who have been approved for transfer are released from the facility, which President Barack Obama wants to close before his term ends at the end of the year.
Saturday’s release marks the largest transfer since 10 Yemenis were sent to Oman in January. It is the first time Saudi Arabia has taken any former Guantanamo inmates.
“The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The men arrived in Saudi Arabia earlier on Saturday. Most had been cleared for release years ago, but faced delays owing in part to their home country descending into civil war, meaning they could not be repatriated.
The nine inmates are: Ahmed Umar Abdullah Al-Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh Nasir, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al-Raimi, Tariq Ali Abdullah Ahmed Ba Odah, Muhammed Abdullah Muhammed Al-Hamiri, Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman, Abd al Rahman Al-Qyati, Mansour Muhammed Ali Al-Qatta, and Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed Al-Sabri.
Of the 80 remaining inmates, 26 have been approved for transfer. Obama wants to send the rest, deemed to be the most dangerous, for incarceration in the United States but Republican lawmakers have steadfastly resisted any such move.
Guantanamo is a US naval base carved out of a remote chunk of land on the tip of southeastern Cuba. The administration of George W. Bush opened a prison there to hold terror suspects soon after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
In all, it has housed about 780 inmates over the years.
Republican presidential candidates have vowed that, if elected, they would send more terror suspects to Guantanamo instead of closing it.