Five men held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were transferred to foreign governments, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday. Oman took four of the Yemeni nationals, with a fifth inmate traveling to Estonia. All of the prisoners had suspected links to al-Qaeda and had been incarcerated since 2001 or 2002, according to military documents previously published by WikiLeaks.
Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has sought to close the prison, transferring some prisoners to third countries while prosecuting others in court. Last year the administration transferred 33 prisoners to other, mainly Arab, countries. U.S. officials say they hope to release over two dozen more who have already been cleared, but others remain too dangerous. Camp Delta now holds 122 inmates, down from a peak of 680 in 2003.
In this June 27, 2006, file photo U.S. military guards walk within Camp Delta at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba. (Photo: AP)
Yemeni nationals comprise the largest contingent of prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, but Yemen’s ongoing insurgency and concerns over the government’s ability to monitor released detainees mean U.S. officials are unwilling to return prisoners to the country. The active presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) so closed to any released prisoners also worries administration officials.
Republicans in congress have continued to voice disapproval for the president’s controversial plans to close Camp Delta. On Tuesday, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation to prohibit additional transfers of medium-risk detainees for two years. Other provisions will tighten criteria from the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that the Pentagon uses to certify prisoner transfers. Over the last few years, congress has also defunded initiatives that would rehouse dangerous prisoners in federal prisons on U.S soil.
With the threat from al-Qaeda reappearing over the past two weeks (AQAP’s leadership took responsibility for the recent attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher grocery store in Paris), the President’s plan to transfer more prisoners could face renewed opposition. Even with the costs of the prison, in both public perception of the U.S. and the almost $1 million per year per prisoner to run the facility, inmates at Guantanamo Bay may remain on the island for years to come.