15 Guantanamo Detainees Sent to UAE in Largest Transfer of Obama Administration

Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The transfer announced on Monday reduced the prison’s remaining population by one-fifth, after 12 Yemenis and three Afghans were sent to the United Arab Emirates. (PHOTO CREDIT: Damon Winter/The New York Times)
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The transfer announced on Monday reduced the prison’s remaining population by one-fifth, after 12 Yemenis and three Afghans were sent to the United Arab Emirates. (PHOTO CREDIT: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

The Pentagon said on Monday that it had sent 15 Guantánamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates in the largest single transfer of the Obama administration. The move eliminated a fifth of the wartime prison’s remaining population, which dropped to 61.

While it appears increasingly unlikely that President Obama will succeed in closing the prison before he leaves office in January, the transfer brought him significantly closer to another goal: getting out every detainee who has been approved for transfer. Some have been stranded on that list for years because they could not be repatriated.

The detainees sent to the United Arab Emirates included 12 Yemenis and three Afghans. The United States had held each of them without trial for about 14 years. Their departure reduced the list of prisoners approved for transfer to 20 men, although a parole-like review board occasionally adds new names to it.

“The United States is grateful to the government of the United Arab Emirates for its continued assistance in closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay,” Lee Wolosky, the State Department special envoy who negotiates such transfers, said in a statement.

The Obama administration has made a sustained diplomatic push to persuade Persian Gulf states to resettle detainees from troubled countries like Yemen. American security officials see them as attractive places to send such detainees both because they share the same language and culture, and because they have security agencies with the capacity to monitor them.

Oman was the first gulf country to provide such help, agreeing to resettle 10 low-level detainees in two batches in early and mid-2015. At a meeting in May 2015 at Camp David with leaders or representatives from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Mr. Obama sought to leverage that deal by urging others to help out, too, officials said.

The United Arab Emirates resettled five Yemenis last November. It put them into a modified version of a custodial rehabilitation program it had developed for its own citizens who had been drawn into Islamist extremism, according to officials familiar with the transfer.

In January, Oman resettled another group of 10. And in April, Saudi Arabia resettled nine.

Qatar has taken on a different headache: In 2014, it resettled five high-level Taliban prisoners whom the administration exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those former prisoners continue to live there under restrictive conditions.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Charlie Savage