Obama sends four Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia as clock winds down

January 5, 2017, 5:37pm

The Pentagon on Thursday announced that four Yemeni Guantanamo detainees who have been held at the detention facility without charge or trial for about 15 years were transferred to Saudi Arabia. There, the men will enter a rehabilitation center for extremists outside of Riyadh.

There are now 55 prisoners who remain captive at Guantanamo, 19 of whom are cleared for transfer.

The transfers are part of President Obama’s final push to whittle down the population at the naval base before he leaves office in two weeks. The administration is expected to transfer 15 or 16 detainees before Jan. 20. As required by law, Congress has already been notified about the Pentagon’s plans.

The low-level detainees released Thursday — Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad, Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim, Muhammad Ali Abdallah Muhammad Bwazir, and Abdallah Yahya Yusif Al-Shibli — were all captured in Afghanistan after 9/11. They were suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda and the terrorist group’s deceased leader, Osama bin Laden.

Bwazir and Al-Shibli were approved for transfer in 2009 but had been stranded due to a moratorium the Obama administration placed on resettlements to Yemen after the country fell into chaos. The other two detainees had previously been deemed too dangerous to transfer, but last May and July they were cleared by a parole board made up of officials from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who found they no longer posed a threat to U.S. national security.

In a statement, the Pentagon thanked Saudi Arabia “for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”

“The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

Earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the Obama administration should cease transferring Guantanamo detainees. But Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who personally signs off on the releases, will continue to do so until Obama leaves office.

“There is one commander-in-chief at a time, and the secretary of defense will continue to carry out his responsibilities as he sees appropriate,” Cook said.

Trump has vowed to keep Guantanamo open and re-populate it with “some bad dudes.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated there are 18 detainees who are currently cleared for transfer. There are actually 19.