Saudi Arabia takes in Yemeni Guantanamo Bay prisoners
The US has transferred nine Yemeni inmates from a US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, part a long-awaited diplomatic deal between Washington and Riyadh.
Following lengthy negotiations, Saudi Arabia agreed to take the nine Yemenis for resettlement and put them through a government-run rehabilitation programme to reintegrate militants into society, US officials said.
Just days before President Barack Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia for a summit of Gulf Arab allies.
The transfer comes amid Obama's renewed efforts to close the controversial detention center at the US naval base in Cuba before he leaves office in January 2017.
"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 group announced by the Pentagon was the largest shipped out of the Guantanamo Bay prison since Obama rolled out his plan in February to shut down the facility.
The controversial decisioned faced stiff opposition from many Republican lawmakers as well as some fellow Democrats.
There are now 80 prisoners at Guantanamo, most held without charge or trial for more than a decade, an action which has drawn international condemnation.
The most high profile inmate to be transferred was 37-year-old Tariq Ba Odah, whom the military had been force-feeding daily since he went on a hunger strike in 2007.
Ba Odah's lawyer, Omar Farah, said the US government had "played Russian roulette" with his client's life and that his transfer "ends one of the most appalling chapters in Guantanamo's sordid history", according to Reuters.
|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.
- Pentagon statement
His case was a source of legal wrangling between the US Department of Justice and his lawyers, who had unsuccessfully sought his release on humanitarian and medical grounds. The wrangling also created divisions within the Obama administration.
Obama's upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia comes at a time when US-Saudi relations have been strained by the nuclear deal with Iran - a Shia regional rival - and what Riyadh sees as a weak US response to Syria's civil war.
The Saudis have also threatened to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of American assets should the US Congress pass a bill that could hold the kingdom responsible for a role in the 9/11 attacks, The New York Times reported.
Guantanamo prisoners were rounded up overseas when the US became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The facility, opened by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, came to symbolise aggressive detention practices that opened the US to accusations of torture.