U.S. troops delivered six long-held Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo for resettlement in the Arabian Sea nation Oman on Friday, the Pentagon said early Saturday, resuming transfers that had been stalled for months.
The mission reduced the detainee population at the prison camps to 116 captives, 51 cleared for transfers with security assurances from the nation taking them in.
Among those released was Emad Hassan, 35, whose lawyers said had been on the prison hunger strike since 2007, and failed to get a judge to stop his forced-feedings. Hassan, captured in Pakistan in March 2002, became a devotee of the “Game of Thrones” series and Dan Brown novels from the prison library, according to his attorney Alka Pradhan.
All six had been cleared for release for at least five years. None was ever charged with a crime. All were taken to the prison camps in the summer of 2002.
The others released were Idris Idris, 36; Sharaf Ahmed Masud, 37; Jalal Salam Awad, 42; Saad al Azani, 36; Muhammed al Zarnuqi, 38.
These were the first releases since Jan. 14, also to Oman, and the first approved by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who at his February confirmation hearings said he would not succumb to administration pressure to increase the pace of releases.
This week’s were also the last releases for at least another month. Carter has not provided Congress with the 30-day statutory notice of any future transfers, according to an Obama administration official with knowledge of the internal process.
The first Oman transfers — of four other long-held, long-cleared Yemenis — came on the signature of Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, and were a test of sorts.
The sultanate shares borders with both Saudi Arabia and Yemen. But Oman has been spared militant Muslim violence, and is considered a stable, steadfast U.S. ally. Just last month, President Barack Obama hosted Sayyid Fahad bin Mahmood Al Said, Oman’s deputy prime minister, on the sidelines of a Camp David summit with Gulf Cooperation Council members on the Iran nuclear issue, a low-key visit that drew little attention, just like the January transfer.
In fact, while detainees sent to resettlement in Uruguay in December grabbed headlines with a U.S. Embassy protest and hasty wedding, not a peep has been heard from or about the four who went to Oman.
At the State Department early Saturday, the acting Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, Charles Trumbull, said in a statement:
“The United States is very grateful to our partner, Oman, for this significant humanitarian gesture, and appreciates the generous assistance of the Government of Oman as we continue our efforts to responsibly reduce the detainee population and ultimately close the detention facility at Guantánamo.”
Texas Republican Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, had a differing view in a statement the committee issued Saturday:
“Despite the high terror threat to our country, the President continues to open the jail cells at Guantanamo Bay, giving potential terrorists the ability to return to the fight. The lack of a comprehensive detainee policy has led this President to make reckless decisions affecting American security. The President needs to be up front with the American people, rather than have the release of dangerous detainees buried in a Saturday news dump.”
It was not known how many of the men released Friday were hunger strikers because the prison has imposed a blackout on the release of tube-feeding figures for more than a year.
In federal court last year, Hassan’s attorneys with the London-based legal defense group Reprieve accused the military of abusive forced-feeding practices that had Navy medical staff subservient to a military bid to break the hunger strike.
They accused the military of at times forcing fluids into a detainee’s feeding tube “at such an extreme rate — nearly two-thirds of a gallon in as little as 20 minutes —as to constitute a form of the ‘Water Cure’ torture, which dates back to the Middle Ages.
Prison medical staff defend their “enteral feedings” as humane. A judge has yet to hear the claim.
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