On Saturday, the Department of Defense announced the transfer of nine Yemeni Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia. This chart summarizes the detainee population as of the latest transfers. Yesterday, Secretary Carter met with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. And today, President Obama is in Riyadh in advance of the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council summit. Here is the DoD press release:
Detainee Transfers Announced
Release No: NR-135-16
April 16, 2016
The Department of Defense announced today the transfer of Ahmed Umar Abdullah Al-Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh Nasir, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al-Raimi, Tariq Ali Abdullah Ahmed Ba Odah, 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 from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As directed by the president's Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases. As a result of those reviews, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Al-Hikimi, Nasir, Al-Raimi, Ba Odah, Al-Hamiri, Kuman, Al-Qyati, and Al-Qatta were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.
On April 17, 2015, the Periodic Review Board consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined continued law of war detention of Al-Sabri does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Al-Sabri was recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board. The Periodic Review Board process was established by the president's March 7, 2011 Executive Order 13567.
In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States' intent to transfer these individuals and of the secretary's determination that these transfers meet the statutory standard.
The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.
Today, 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay.
More information on the Periodic Review Secretariat can be found here: http://www.prs.mil/.
Senators Tom Cotton and Kelly Ayotte quickly released statements opposing the transfer. In her statement, Senator Ayotte promoted a bill she introduced this month—the Detaining Terrorists to Protect Americans Act of 2016—which would tighten restrictions on transfers not just to the U.S. but also abroad.
Here is the Cotton statement:
Today, President Obama transferred nine hardened terrorists from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, illustrating once again that President Obama prioritizes campaign promises and politics over our safety and security. While Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the fight against radical Islam, their track record in preventing Guantanamo detainees from returning to the battlefield is poor, and they share a border with the failed state of Yemen, home of AQAP. The American people and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia deserve to know the full extent of past terrorist activities of the nine terrorists released today.
And here is from statement from Ayotte:
With the release announced this weekend of nine Yemeni detainees to Saudi Arabia, the administration continues to dangerously release terrorists from Guantanamo and unnecessarily put Americans at increased risk in order to fulfill a misguided campaign promise-all while refusing to level with the American people regarding the detainees' terrorist risks, activities, and affiliations.
That is why I introduced the Detaining Terrorists to Protect Americans Act of 2016 this month, which would permanently ban the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. and would suspend the release of Guantanamo detainees internationally. Continuing to release these dangerous terrorists is reckless, and poses a serious threat to our troops, our allies, and our country.
This all comes only a few weeks after Paul Lewis, special DoD Guantanamo envoy, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that released detainees have taken part in attacks that claimed American lives, fueling concerns over detainee reengagement. (The Director of National Intelligence’s March report summarizes detainee reengagement. Of the 118 confirmed reengaged, 111 were released under the Bush Administration, 7 under Obama.)
News and Commentary
Charlie Savage explains why this transfer is so significant: “finding places to transfer the large number of lower-level Yemeni detainees . . . has been a significant obstacle” to closing Guantanamo. “The effort to persuade the Saudi government to take the prisoners,” Savage reports, “began in the Bush administration and finally resulted in an agreement in February.”
NPR, Al Jazeera, and the BBC highlight the release of Ba Odah, the most prominent of the hunger-striking detainees at the facility. Ba Odah had been on a hunger strike—and receiving forced feedings—since 2007.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the transfer comes amid growing tension over proposed legislation—targeted at alleged Saudi support for the 9/11 terrorists—that would declare that foreign sovereign immunity does not shield foreign officials from claims of supporting terrorism. Meanwhile, on Lawfare, Bruce Riedel offers insight into the complex, but ever critical, U.S.-Saudi relationship.
On Monday, the Intercept ran an extended look at one of the nine transferred detainees letters from Guantanamo.