WASHINGTON — The Obama administration sent 10 Guantanamo detainees to Oman as two of the remaining detainees cleared for release have petitioned a judge to force their transfer to another country before Donald Trump takes the oath of office.
The Pentagon said today that eight Yemenis and two Afghans — Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani, Mustafa Abd al-Qawi Abd al-Aziz Al-Shamiri, Karim Bostam, Abdul Sahir, Musab Omar Ali Al-Mudwani, Hail Aziz Ahmed Al-Maythali, Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i, Mohammed Al-Ansi, Muhammad Ahmad Said Haider, and Walid Said bin Said Zaid — were transferred to Oman, which said it took the men as “temporary” residents on a humanitarian basis.
That leaves 45 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The population of the detention facility was 242 when President Obama took office.
Two of the 10 released to Oman had been cleared for release only last month. Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i, a Saudi-born citizen of Yemen, “has acknowledged he will pose a threat if released,” according to a 2008 Defense Department assessment that said he also admitted to receiving “advanced militant training including assassination training” at an al-Qaeda training camp and had family ties to the terror group. Mohammed Al-Ansi, a Yemen native, was a bin Laden bodyguard who “received specialized close combat training for his role as a suicide operative in an aborted component of the 11 September 2001 al-Qaida attacks,” according to a 2008 DoD assessment.
“At this time, I don’t anticipate that we will succeed in that goal of closing the prison, but it’s not for a lack of trying, I assure you,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at today’s briefing. “And the only reason it didn’t happen is because of the politics that members of Congress in both parties, frankly, played with this issue, and it has put the United States in a position where because of the obstacles erected by Congress, terrorist organizations have a powerful recruiting tool and millions in taxpayer dollars are wasted to operate this large facility for 45 people, potentially less.”
He acknowledged “the possibility of additional transfers remains a possibility” in Obama’s last days.
“Look, I think once there was a — once we’d reached the 30-day deadline for notifying Congress in advance of detainee transfers, the likelihood of succeeding in closing the prison was quite remote,” Earnest added.
Nine of the remaining prisoners have been approved for transfer, but they need a country that’s willing to take them in.
Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian, and Abdul Latif Nasir, a Moroccan, are on the list of detainees cleared for transfer but don’t have host countries ready to take them in — so their attorneys filed emergency motions Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, fearing that if Obama doesn’t transfer them they’ll be stuck at Gitmo for another four years.
Judges in each case asked the federal government to respond this week on the detainees’ transfer requests. The men could potentially be transferred by judicial order, bypassing the 30-day notification by the administration to Congress required by law.