Nine prisoners of Yemeni descent, held at the Guantanamo prison camp, were all transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of President Obama’s plan to close the prison facility before he leaves office.
The transfer leaves 80 men still imprisoned at the facility.
The most prominent of the latest transfers was Tariq Ba Odah, a 37-year-old Yemeni whom the military had been force-feeding daily since he went on a hunger strike in 2007 and had been reported to have lost half his body weight.
His case was source of frequent legal wrangling between the U.S. Department of Justice and his lawyers, who had unsuccessfully sought his release on humanitarian and medical grounds.
Obama wants to make good on his long-time pledge to empty the Guantanamo prison before the end of his presidency. But he faces stiff opposition from many Republican lawmakers, as well as some fellow Democrats.
The transfers, which followed lengthy diplomatic efforts between Washington and Riyadh, took place as Obama prepared to attend a summit of Gulf Arab allies in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
The other prisoners involved in the transfer were identified as: Umar Abdullah Al-Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh Nasir, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al-Raimi, Muhammed Abdullah Muhammed Al-Hamiri, Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman, Abd al Rahman Al-Qyati, Mansour Muhammed Ali Al-Qatta, and Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed Al-Sabri.
They were among a group of low-level inmates, now numbering 26, who have been cleared for transfer by a U.S. government inter-agency task force. U.S. officials have said they expect to move out all members of that group by this summer, sending them to their home countries or other nations.
Obama’s plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prison in the United States. U.S. law bars such transfers to the mainland – and Congress has shown no willingness to revoke it – but Obama has not ruled out using executive action to move the detainees.
It is doubtful any of those still being held will be released to their home countries. What country in their right mind would knowingly invite a terrorist to live in their midst? These transfers are all the result of pressure by the U.S. government or a quid pro quo involving other considerations.
As for Obama not ruling out issuing a royal decree and giving the middle finger to Congress about transferring Gitmo prisoners to the mainland, it’s what this president will go down in history for. The scary thought is that these precedents he has set will eventually lead to terrifying new powers being exercised by chief executives in the future and Congress will become even more irrelevant than it already is.