Five Yemeni Guantanamo detainees who have been held captive at the detention facility for nearly 14 years were transferred to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Department of Defense announced in a statement Sunday.
The transfers took place on Friday night, after terrorists mounted a series of attacks in Paris directed by the Islamic State, killing 129 people and wounding more than 300 others, US officials told VICE News. The Pentagon, however, waited until Sunday to announce the resettlement.
Four of the now former low value detainees— Khalid Abd-al-Jabbar Muhammad Uthman al-Qadasi, 47, Adil Said al-Hajj Ubayd al-Busays, 42, Sulayman Awad Bin Uqayl al-Nahdi, 40, and Fahmi Salem Said al-Asani—were approved for release or transfer in 2010 by a Guantanamo task force made up of six departments and government agencies set up by President Obama in 2009 to review the cases of detainees. The fifth detainee, Ali Ahmad Muhammad al-Razihi, 36, a suspected bodyguard for the late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was previously deemed to dangerous to release but a parole board took another look at his case last year and determined he no longer posed a national security threat and could be transferred.
All five men, who were never charged with a crime, were captured in late 2001 at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They were accused of being members of Al Qaeda, who attended a training camp, and then traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the US and coalition forces, according to US military intelligence assessment reports on the captives published by Wikileaks. (The integrity of the documents have been called into question by human rights groups and lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees.)
"The United States is grateful to the Government of the United Arab Emirates for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the Government of the United Arab Emirates to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures," DOD said in a statement.
The UAE had previously accepted one detainee, who was a citizen of the Persian Gulf nation.
Congress has prohibited the Obama administration from using funds to repatriate Yemeni detainees—the largest national group who remain at Guantanamo—to their home countries because of the ongoing turmoil and instability there from the civil war and the rise of the of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Obama placed a moratorium on the transfer of Yemeni detainees in late December 2009, which was lifted in mid-2013, at the height of a mass hunger strike at Guantanamo.
Congress was notified about the transfer of the five Yemenis 30 days in advance as required by law. Of the 107 detainees who are being held at detention facility, 48 have been cleared for release or transfer.
In an interview this week with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Obama said he hopes "that by the end of this year we are seeing close to under 100 [Guantanamo] prisoners remaining and detainees remaining."
"And then my intention is to present to Congress a sensible, plausible plan" to shutter the detention facility. The cornerstone of the administration's long-awaited plan calls for sending the remainder of detainees to prisons in the US operated by the Department of Defense.
The US prisons in the running to house Guantanamo detainees are the US Disciplinary Barracks and Midwest Joint Regional Corrections Facility in Leavenworth, Kansas; the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina; the Federal Correctional Complex, which includes the medium, maximum, and supermax facility in Florence, Colorado; and Centennial Correctional Facility in Canon City, Colorado.
But last week, Congress passed an annual defense spending bill barring the administration from using funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to American soil. That means Obama will be hard pressed to fulfill his campaign pledge of shutting Guantanamo before he leaves office unless he uses his executive authority and acts unilaterally, something he would not rule out when pressed by Stephanopoulos.
"One of the things that I've been consistently trying to do is to give Congress the chance to do the right thing before I then look at my next options," Obama said. "My job right now is to make sure that Congress has a chance to look at a serious plan and look at all the facts and we'll take it from there."