Political Analysis

U.S. Moves Five Yemenis From Guantánamo

National Yemen

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police during in-processing to the temporary detention facility at Camp X-Ray of Naval Base Guantanamo Bay.(Reuters / Stringer)


WASHINGTON — The United States transferred five more detainees — all of them Yemenis — from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, the Defense Department announced. Their release intensified the dispute between the Obama administration and several Republican senators over President Obama’s recent flurry of transfers as he seeks to empty the American-run prison.

The latest transfers came one day after several Republican senators, including John McCain of Arizona, proposed legislation that would place a moratorium on the release of most of the prisoners held at Guantánamo. The move was widely interpreted as an attempt to halt the recent surge in releases.

The proposed legislation would bar transfers to Yemen for two years and would suspend virtually all transfers from Guantánamo for the same period, repealing the law that has allowed the administration to transfer 33 prisoners in the last year.

With the transfers on Wednesday, there are 122 prisoners at Guantánamo, down from 680 in 2003.

Mr. Obama’s goal in the last two years of his presidency is to deplete the Guantánamo prison population to the point that it would house 60 to 80 people and keeping it open would make no economic sense. The United States spends more than $3 million a year to house each prisoner at Guantánamo.

Four of the five Yemenis released Wednesday were transferred to Oman, which shares a border with Yemen. Officials declined to disclose the security assurances reached between the United States and Oman or detail how the men would be prevented from facing American troops on battlefields.

But the men were all cleared for release five years ago by the national security team made up of officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, the Justice Department and other national security agencies charged with reviewing the cases.

The four men released to Oman, according to a Pentagon news release, are Al Khadr Abdallah Muhammad al-Yafi, who has been held at Guantánamo without charges for 13 years, and Fadhel Hussein Saleh Hentif, Abd Al-Rahman Abdullah Au Shabati, and Mohammed Ahmed Salam, all of whom had been held for almost 13 years.

The fifth man, Akmed Abdul Qadei, was captured by the Pakistani authorities in March 2002, when he was 17. He was released to Estonia on Wednesday after being held without charges at Guantánamo for 12 years and seven months. The release of the five men continues the brisk pace of releases set by the administration in 2014, when more prisoners were freed than in any year since 2009, Mr. Obama’s first year in office.

Mr. Obama had campaigned on the promise to close the prison, which top administration officials have characterized as a blight on the country’s international standing. Congressional opposition slowed his plans, and any transfers were largely halted between 2011 and 2013, when the president renewed his efforts.