The Pentagon has identified the latest group of detainees released from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as four Yemenis, all of whom had been in custody for at least 14 years as suspected members of the al-Qaida terror network.
The four arrived Thursday in Riyadh, capital of the Saudi kingdom, where they were reunited with family members in a gathering that was both tearful and joyous.
The Saudi interior ministry said King Salman has decided the four men will live in the kingdom and take part in “a rehabilitation and de-radicalization program.” No specific charges were ever brought against them during their time at Guantanamo.
Fifty-five prisoners now remain at the U.S. detention center on Cuban soil, which President Barack Obama had promised to close down when he took office eight years ago. Disputes over how to handle the prisoners' release, or where to house them, blocked many efforts to thin the camp's population.
More transfers expected
U.S. officials reportedly plan to transfer abroad up to 15 other prisoners before Obama leaves the White House on January 20, but it appears the president's goal of closing down the detention camp completely will not be met.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress rebuffed a series of attempts to move detainees from Cuba to maximum-security prisons in the United States, and President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends to keep Guantanamo open, to “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Earlier this week, Trump tweeted his opposition to further prisoner transfers: “There should be no further releases from Gitmo [a nickname for Guantanamo]. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
If any more detainees are transferred abroad during the two weeks before Obama's term expires, news reports suggest they could go to Italy, Oman or the United Arab Emirates.
A released Yemeni detainee sits next to a family member after his arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 5, 2017.
Freed detainees identified
A Pentagon statement issued after the prisoners arrived in Riyadh said: “The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
U.S. and Saudi officials ensured the transfers took place with “appropriate security and humane treatment,” the statement added.
Saudi Arabia's state news agency identified the freed detainees as Mohammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanem, Salem Ahmed Hadi bin Kanad, Abdullah Yehya Yousef al-Shibli and Mohammed Bawazir. The last had refused an offer to be released to Montenegro a year ago; his lawyer, who named his client as Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir, said he had wanted to go to Saudi Arabia, where his brother and uncle live, and where his mother visits frequently.