US Department of Defence has released nine Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia, including a long-term hunger striker whose weight has dropped to 34 kg, officials said on Saturday.
There are now 80 prisoners left at the controversial military prison. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.
The group was the largest shipped out of the US naval base in Cuba since Obama rolled out his plan in February to shut the controversial detention centre before he leaves office in January 2017.
One of the released detainees, 37-year-old Tariq Ba Odah had been on a hunger strike since 2007 and lost half his body weight during his detention. Ba Odah who has been force-fed on a daily basis, was cleared for transfer in 2009. His case was source of frequent legal wrangling between the US Department of Justice and his lawyers, who had unsuccessfully sought his release on humanitarian and medical grounds.
The other prisoners involved in the transfer were identified as: Umar Abdullah Al Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh Nasir, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al Raimi, 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.
Most of the Yemeni detainees were cleared for release years ago, however, they could not be sent back home due to the instability in the country and possible risk it may pose to safety of detainees. The Saudi government agreed to take the detainees, and will send them to a rehabilitation program that will help their transition back into society. The men arrived in the country earlier on Saturday.
Obama wants to make good on his long-time pledge to empty the Guantanamo prison before the end of his presidency. But he faces stiff opposition from many Republican lawmakers, as well as some fellow Democrats.
They were among a group of low-level inmates, now numbering 26, who have been cleared for transfer by a US government interagency task force. US officials have said they expect to move out all members of that group by this summer, sending them to their home countries or other nations.
Obama's plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prison in the United States. US law bars such transfers to the mainland and Congress has shown no willingness to revoke it but Obama has not ruled out using executive action to move the detainees.
On the other hand, Republican presidential candidates have vowed that, if elected, they would send more terror suspects to Guantanamo instead of closing it.