The White House said that 10 Yemeni detainees transferred from Guantanamo, announced Thursday by the Pentagon, were placed in a “rehabilitation program” for terrorists in Oman.
It’s the fourth transfer announced since the start of the year, a rapid liquidation from an administration that wants to close the prison facility in Cuba.
On Jan. 6, the Defense Department announced two inmates had been sent to Ghana. Two days later, the department said Kuwait had taken a detainee. On Monday, one transfer to Saudi Arabia was announced.
The latest transfer took the population of Gitmo down to 93.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said the 10 sent to Oman are “dangerous detainees” and the administration proceeded with the transfer “knowing that a significant number of detainees have returned to the battlefield.”
“Some have even become leaders of lethal terrorist networks,” Thornberry said. “In accordance with the law, Secretary Carter directed this transfer only after providing a written certification that it is in the national security interests of the United States, and that the government of Oman will be able to keep these detainees from returning to the fight in nearby Yemen or elsewhere. The Armed Services Committee will be watching closely to make sure that the secretary’s pledge is kept.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that the Omani rehab program “as you would expect also includes significant security limitations.”
“They are monitored around the clock and their ability to travel is limited. So I can’t speak to whether or not they’re in a prison cell or not but I can tell you that steps like monitoring all their activities, keeping close tabs on their communications, limiting their ability to travel and also, putting them through this rehabilitation program that has a track record of rehabilitating radicalized individuals,” Earnest said.
“It is a way to get them out of the prison in Guantanamo Bay in doing it way that mitigates the risk of the threat that they pose to U.S. national security. That’s not just my assessment. That’s not just the assessment of the president of the United States. The secretary of Defense himself has to personally certify that the appropriate security cautions — the appropriate security precautions have been taken. And in this case, they have.”
In September, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter estimated that “roughly half” of the population at Gitmo is “not safe to release, period.”
“If they’re detained at Guantanamo, fine. I would prefer to find a different place for them, and right now, we’re working with the Congress, because the Congress has to agree to this, because there’re laws restricting what we do with — with respect to Guantanamo Bay,” Carter said in a worldwide troop talk broadcast from Fort Meade.
“So we’ll try to come up with a plan and work with Congress to see if we can do that or not. It would be a — it would be a nice thing to do and an important thing to do if we — if we can do it. But we gotta be realistic about the people who are in Guantanamo Bay. They’re there for a reason.”
Carter said Thursday that he’d submitted a proposal to President Obama to bring remaining detainees “to an appropriate, secure location in the United States.”
“Not everyone in GTMO can be safely transferred to another country, so we need an alternative,” Carter said. “I have therefore framed for the president a proposal to establish an alternative location.”
Three senators who sat together at Tuesday’s State of the Union address as an opposition block against any plan to transfer detainees to their states — Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) — stressed in a joint statement that “no matter how hard the president wishes it wasn’t the case, transferring dozens of dangerous terrorists to any domestic location is illegal.”
“It is also clear that closing Guantanamo and moving the detainees to Colorado, South Carolina, or Kansas will not lead to even the smallest change in the beliefs or propaganda of radical Islamic terrorists,” the senators added.
“The president’s effort to create Gitmo North at a domestic location makes our nation less secure, and places a target square on an American community. We stand united against any attempts to relocate these dangerous terrorists to the mainland, no matter the specific location proposed in the Department of Defense report, and will use all of the tools at our disposal to stop it from happening.”
Earnest said “even if there are Republicans who are skeptical of the claim that the recruitment value of the prison at Guantanamo Bay is minimal, well, surely these guys who are strongly opposed to government spending would enthusiastically embrace an opportunity to save taxpayers some money.”
“The president certainly has embraced that opportunity, and the president I think would be the first one to tell you that he — that this has been part of basically every conversation that he’s had with the Department of Defense about the need to put this plan together and to do so mindful of the impact that it has on taxpayers and the way their money is spent,” he said.