Defense Department officials announced that President Obama has approved the transfer of five “lower-level” Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United Arab Emirates. President Obama signed the order on Sunday. The prisoners have been held in Gitmo for the past 14 years and were designated as wartime prisoners. The transfer of the Yemeni prisoners is the first for the United Arab Emirates, which previously only taken in one of its own in 2008. The prisoners were captured near Afghanistan-Pakistan border following the battle of Tora Bora, when many of the low-level fighters fled to the mountains.
Three of the prisoners were previously recommended for transfer by a task force made up of several security-related agencies. The task force recommended two other men to remain in detention but whose status was later changed to transferrable by a parole-like board. The Obama administration is expected to send Congress a plan soon to close the Guantanamo prison. It expects to propose moving the 59 remaining detainees not recommended for transfer to a prison in the USA. Current law bars the military from bringing any detainees onto domestic soil.
The released men, who arrived in the UAE on Saturday, were identified as Ali Ahmad Muhammad al-Razihi, Khalid Abd-al-Jabbar Muhammad Uthman al-Qadasi, Adil Said al-Hajj Ubayd al-Busays, Sulayman Awad Bin Uqayl al-Nahdi, and Fahmi Salem Said al-Asani. None of the men had been charged with a crime but had been detained as enemy combatants. They could not be sent to their homeland because the U.S. considers Yemen too unstable to accept prisoners from Guantanamo. These are the first prisoners accepted by the UAE for resettlement.
In May, President Obama met at Camp David with leaders or representatives of the six Middle Eastern countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, including a representative from the United Arab Emirates. The main topic of discussion was the nuclear agreement with Iran, but officials familiar with the deliberations said Mr. Obama had also pressed them to consider resettling groups of detainees. The deal announced on Sunday appears to be the first fruits of those talks.
The centerpiece of that plan is expected to be a provision to move to a prison in the United States the 59 remaining detainees who are not recommended for transfer. A statute passed by Congress currently bars the military from bringing any detainees onto domestic soil. The other 48 remaining detainees are recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met in the receiving country. Most, like those transferred over the weekend, would need to be resettled rather than repatriated because they are from Yemen, which is torn by a civil war.