US transfers five Yemenis from Guantanamo to UAE

A guard at the US Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The Obama administration is expected to send Congress a plan soon to close the Guantanamo prison, including moving 59 detainees, who are not recommended for transfer, to a US jail.
A guard at the US Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The Obama administration is expected to send Congress a plan soon to close the Guantanamo prison, including moving 59 detainees, who are not recommended for transfer, to a US jail.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The US has transferred five Yemeni detainees, described as "lower level", from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

They had been in detention for nearly 14 years as wartime prisoners, and none had been charged with a crime.

The transfers, announced on Sunday, reduced the detainee population at the prison to 107. As many as 17 other proposed transfers of lower-level detainees are in the pipeline, an official said.

The resettlement of the Yemeni detainees was the first of its kind to the United Arab Emirates, which had previously taken in just one Guantanamo detainee, in 2008 - its own citizen.

For years, the US administration had held out hope that the political and security climate of Yemen would stabilise enough that the dozens of lower-level Yemenis held at Guantanamo could be repatriated to the country. Over the past few years, however, the United States has instead begun persuading other countries to take in small batches of that group.

In May, President Barack Obama met leaders or representatives of the six Middle Eastern countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, including a representative from the United Arab Emirates. Officials familiar with the deliberations said Mr Obama had pressed them to consider resettling groups of detainees. This deal appears to be the first fruits of those talks.

Each of the five detainees was captured near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in late 2001, after the battle of Tora Bora, when many fighters fled to the mountains, according to leaked military dossiers.

The transferred detainees included four men who had been recommended for transfer by a 2009 task force made up of six security-related agencies. There was also one man who the task force recommended for continuing detention, but whose status was changed to transferable by a parole-like board.

The Obama administration is expected to send Congress a plan soon to close the Guantanamo prison, including moving to a US jail the 59 remaining detainees who are not recommended for transfer.

The other 48 remaining detainees are recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met in the receiving country. Most, like those just transferred, would be resettled rather than repatriated because they are from Yemen, torn by civil war.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2015, with the headline 'US transfers five Yemenis from Guantanamo to UAE'. Print Edition | Subscribe