With Congress pushing stricter restrictions on prisoner transfers, the Pentagon this weekend released five Yemenis from the prison camps at Guantánamo to resettle in the United Arab Emirates, an Arabian Gulf nation. None of the captives had ever been charged with a crime.
The transfer, done on Friday night but disclosed Sunday afternoon, left 107 captives at Guantánamo. Of them, 48 are cleared for release once diplomats negotiate security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
A U.S Air Force cargo plane left the base carrying the five men to their new lives after the terrorist attacks in Paris, said Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.
Three of the freed men were approved for transfer during the Bush years, including Adil al Busayss, 42, whom the prison recommended be sent to a third-country lockup in 2004, according to files provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks.
The other two were identified as Khalid al Qadasi, 46, and Suleiman al Nahdi, 40. They were approved for release during the Bush administration in 2007 and 2008, but as Yemenis they could not be sent home.
A fourth detainee, Ali al Razihi, 36, got to the prison in southeast Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002, the day Camp X-Ray opened. He was held for a period as a “forever prisoner” — a suspected Osama bin Laden bodyguard — but a federal national security parole board cleared him for release in April 2014, without resolving the bodyguard question.
The fifth man who was released — Fahmi al Asani, 38 — had lost his unlawful detention suit in federal court in February 2010, a month after an Obama task force approved his release with appropriate security measures. His attorney, John Chandler of Atlanta, said Asani was also approved for transfer by the Bush administration.
Many cleared Yemenis sought repatriation to their poor Arabian Peninsula nation, something both the Bush and Obama administrations opposed because of violence in their homeland as well as a strong al-Qaida offshoot there. So the Obama administration has spent years finding friendly countries to resettle long-cleared Yemenis.
In taking in the five men, the Arabian Gulf nation becomes the 23rd country to agree to Obama administration appeals to resettle cleared captives from the prison camps that the president has pledged to close. The Emirates’ neighbor, Oman, took in six Yemenis in June.
The other 21 resettlement nations are: Albania, Belgium, Bermuda, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Palau, Portugal, Qatar, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay.
“Our country will not send men home to Yemen, and the United States won’t take men, even those never charged with any wrongdoing. So we have to depend on the rest of the world to clean up the mess we made in Guantánamo,” said Chandler, who represented Asani and Nahdi for years.
Chandler described his two Yemeni clients as “the best of the best.” For all their years in U.S. military detention, he said, “neither of these men are bitter.”
Nahdi “spent his years in Guantánamo as a peace maker, often called on by the administration to calm troubled situations,” said Chander. Asani “has a beautiful voice and did the call to prayer for his block for many years. He never believed the American justice system would get him out of Guantánamo, and he was right.”
The transfer comes as Congress has sent back to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature the National Defense Authorization Act. The defense policy bill includes tougher restrictions on Guantánamo releases — limits that the White House says would encroach on Obama’s commander-in-chief authority.
It also comes while the administration is crafting a plan that proposes to move at least some of the remaining captives to the United States to close the controversial detention center, an idea that many in Congress oppose — particularly those from Colorado, Kansas and South Carolina, which have military lockups under consideration as potential war-prison detention sites.
A Pentagon statement said Carter signed off on the transfers more than 30 days ago and notified Congress, in keeping with statutory requirements. A U.S. Air Force cargo plane airlifted the five men from the base Friday, although it was not immediately known at what time of day.
“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 Guantánamo Bay detention facility,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Sunday night.
About the UAE
The United Arab Emirates has seven emirates, similar to states. Its most populous is Dubai. Its capital is Abu Dhabi.