15 Guantanamo inmates sent to UAE in largest single release

The latest transfers bring the remaining population of the detention center down to 61

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Most detainees at Guantanamo have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.

Fifteen Guantanamo Bay detainees have been transferred to the United Arab Emirates, the largest such release in years, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

The transfer of the 12 Yemeni and three Afghan citizens brings the total number of detainees down to 61 at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.

The Pentagon has previously struggled to find a third country to take Yemeni detainees, given that they can't go home because of the civil war in their nation.

"The United States is grateful to the government of the United Arab Emirates for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close Guantanamo," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Once transferred, former inmates are usually freed subject to supervision and undergoing rehabilitation programmes.

Obama, who had hoped to close the prison during his first year in office, rolled out his plan in February aimed at shutting the facility. But he faces opposition from many Republican lawmakers as well as some fellow Democrats.

"In its race to close Gitmo, the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that put American lives at risk," Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

"Once again, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat," he said.

While Obama's plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States, US law bars such transfers to the mainland. Obama, though, has not ruled out doing so by executive action.

"I think we are at an extremely dangerous point where there is a significant possibility this is going to remain open as a permanent offshore prison to hold people, practically until they die," said Naureen Shah, Amnesty International's US director for security and human rights.

Shah said keeping Guantanamo open gave cover to foreign governments to ignore human rights.

"It weakens the US government's hand in arguing against torture and indefinite detention," she said.

One of the detainees who was transferred is an Afghan national, identified as Obaidullah, who has spent more than 13 years at Guantanamo. He had been accused of storing mines to be used against American forces in Afghanistan.

"The continued operation of the detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists," Lee Wolosky, the State Department's special envoy for closing the Guantanamo detention center, said.

"The support of our friends and allies - like the UAE - is critical to our achieving this shared goal," Wolosky said.

A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity said the UAE had resettled five detainees transferred in November 2015.

TRTWorld and agencies