President Obama has announced the largest single transfer of prisoners from the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison.
Twelve Yemenis and three Afghan prisoners were transferred to the Middle East for re-settlement after being held in the military run jail with no charge, some for up to 14 years.
“The United States is grateful to the government of the United Arab Emirates for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close Guantanamo Bay,” the Pentagon said.
The transfers leave 61 remaining prisoners, 19 of whom have been cleared for transfer. The jail, at an American navy base in Cuba, opened in 2002 under George W Bush and was used to hold the suspects behind the September 11 attacks in New York City. Guantanamo Bay has held 779 inmates in total and nine have died in custody. Prisoners from about 50 different countries have been held at the jail, with Afghans, Saudis and Yemenis making up 60 per cent of the inmates. Though a large portion of inmates were released during Bush’s presidency, allegations of torture were rife during his administration.
President Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay when he first came into office. In a 2008 60 Minutes interview he said “I intend to close Guantanamo and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”
Video of the 60 Minutes’ Interview with President Obama from Ishoozedotcom’s Youtube Account
The latest transfers confirm Mr. Obama’s promise to close the prison before he leaves office. At the beginning of his presidency there were 242 detainees but he has struggled to gain support to shut down the prison completely. The president says the prison has the potential to damage vital relations with other countries and running Guantanamo Bay costs the US $445 million each year.
Mr. Obama requires congressional approval to close the prison but his plans have been met with resistance from the Republican party. Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman spoke out against the recent transfers and said “hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat.” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said that he will keep Guantanamo Bay open if he is elected and that he will fill it with “bad dudes.”
US law states that Guantanamo Bay prisoners must be transferred overseas, leaving officials struggling to find foreign facilities to take them. Obama wants to bring some of the prisoners to the US for trial, which would lead to their incarceration in the US but politicians from the Democrat and Republican parties have argued that Guantanamo Bay prisoners do not belong on US soil. – Samantha Besgrove