Five Yemenis freed from Guantanamo Bay prison

Five Yemenis freed from Guantanamo Bay prison
3 min read
15 January, 2015
Men resettled in Estonia and Oman, as battle continues in over total closure of prison set up to hold "enemy combatants" captured during wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yemenis have campaigned for the return of Guantanamo inmates [Getty/AFP]
Five Yemeni inmates have been freed from the US Guantanamo Bay prison and resettled abroad, six years after they were cleared for release.

Oman has taken four of the men, while the fifth has gone to Estonia. However, 122 men still languish in the US prison, which the US president Barack Obama promised to close by the end of 2009.

Yemenis comprise the largest group of prisoners remaining but Washington is reluctant for any to return to their home country due to the ongoing instability and presence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular.

     A war or words has erupted between US politicians over the number of released inmates that have re-entered the fight

Over the past year there has been an increase in releases, with 33 inmates resettled to countries including as Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Uruguay and 54 more have been approved for transfer.

Pressure is mounting on the White House to realise Obama's closure pledge. However, many Republican senators oppose the move and agreeing the freedom of the remaining inmates remains complex.

The camp was set up on US territory on the island of Cuba in 2002 to hold so-called enemy combatants in the US "war on terror". A total of 779 Muslim men and boys have since been imprisoned at Guantanamo, almost all without due process.

Still a threat?

A war or words has erupted between US politicians over the number of released inmates who have taken up arms since their release.

"This administration continues to irresponsibly release detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Many of these detainees have returned to the battlefields from which they came and are looking for ways to kill Americans and our allies," said Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator.

Ayotte and other Republicans introduced legislation this week to stop the transfer of more inmates to foreign countries. They say roughly one in three of the released inmates have taken up arms since their release.

The laws being proposed in the Senate would bar transfers to Yemen for two years, suspend the transfer of "medium" and "high" risk inmates for the same period and repeal the law that has allowed the Obama administration to transfer prisoners to foreign countries.

The bill would also prohibit transfers to foreign countries if there has been a confirmed case where an individual was transferred from Guantanamo and engaged in terrorist activity.

Proponents of closing the prison down argue that right-wing politicians are inflating the figures to ensure Guantanamo survives beyond the Obama administration.

"The percentage of detainees who were transferred after the Obama-era review and then found to have engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities is 6.8 percent," said Clifford Sloan, former State Department envoy for closing Guantanamo Bay.

Sloan adds that while zero percent would be ideal the current situation does not justify "holding in perpetuity the overwhelming majority of detainees who do not subsequently engage in wrongdoing".

Paris outrage hatched in badlands of Yemen. Read Abubakr al-Shamahi on AQAP.

The legality of Guantanamo Bay has always been controversial. The former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions arguing the facility should never have been opened and was only created "in an effort to avoid the law".

US courts have previously accepted the justification that "the enemy" could be held for the duration of the conflict. The official end of US military operations in Afghanistan last year undermines that argument.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said only last weekend that it is in the US interest to close the prison.

The biggest challenge to closing Guantanamo would be decisions over the remaining 58 prisoners who have not been approved for transfer.

A proposal to send some of them to US prisons would allow the men to fight their cases under US mainland law - soemthing they are not able to do while locked up in Guantanamo Bay.