US transfers 15 Guantanamo detainees to UAE

US transfers 15 Guantanamo detainees to UAE
The Pentagon on Monday announced the release and transfer of 15 detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the UAE, the largest such release during the presidency of Barack Obama.
3 min read
16 August, 2016
The Guantanamo Bay prison still holds 61 detainees [Getty]

Fifteen Guantanamo Bay detainees have been freed and transferred to the United Arab Emirates, in one of the largest release of prisoners from the controversial facility, the Pentagon announced Monday.

The transfer brings the remaining population of the detention centre down to 61. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, about 780 inmates have been jailed in the US military-run facility.

According to a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, 12 of the men released are from Yemen and three are Afghans.

The Pentagon has previously struggled to find a third country to take Yemeni detainees, given that they cannot go home because of the ongoing 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.

Amnesty International USA welcomed the announcement as a sign President Barack Obama is serious about closing the controversial facility before he leaves office.

"It's a significant repudiation of the idea that Guantanamo is going to be open for business for the indefinite future," Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA's security and human rights programme director, told AFP.

We are at an extremely dangerous and pivotal point where if President Obama fails to close Guantanamo then the next administration could bring more detainees there.
- Naureen Shah

One of those transferred is an Afghan called Obaidullah, who had allegedly hidden land mines in 2001. He was detained for 14 years without trial.

Monday's announcement represents the largest transfer of prisoners under the Democratic Obama administration.

"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," Ambassador Lee Wolosky, the special envoy for Guantanamo closure, said in a statement.

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

Obama wants to close the facility before he leaves office at the start of next year but Republican lawmakers have continually thwarted his efforts.

Still, the United States has in recent months accelerated the rate at which detainees who have been approved for transfer are released from the facility.

When Obama took office, there were 242 detainees at Guantanamo. Monday's announcement means 19 inmates will remain who have been cleared for transfer.

Obama wants to send the rest, deemed to be the most dangerous, for incarceration in the United States - but that is an extreme long shot given Republican opposition.

In February, the president presented Congress with a new closure plan for Guantanamo, which he says serves only to stoke anti-US resentment and fuel jihadist recruitment.

Amnesty's Naureen Shah said it was important for Obama to push ahead with plans to shutter Guantanamo, or the next administration could start filling its cells with suspected jihadists captured in the campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

"We are at an extremely dangerous and pivotal point where if President Obama fails to close Guantanamo then the next administration could bring more detainees there," Shah said.

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 the highly controversial prison there to hold terror suspects.

Agencies contributed to this report.