Nine Yemen nationals have been transferred to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the Obama administration pushes to close the controversial facility despite strong opposition from congressional Republicans.
Television footage late Saturday showed the detainees, captured in the U.S.-led war on terror, arriving in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where they underwent medical exams and where a top Yemen official awaited their arrival. Several detainees thanked the Saudi government for taking them in.
"We are looking to carry out a genuine program that gives them hope and a window into the future ... part of this society, one that is based on peace," said Yemen Human Rights Minister Ezzeldin Al-Abahi.
The transfer, announced by the Pentagon earlier Saturday in Washington, came just weeks after President Barack Obama announced an accelerated plan to try to shutter the prison before he leaves office in January 2017. It also came days ahead of Obama's scheduled arrival in the Saudi capital for a summit of the six-nation security and economic forum known as the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The transfer followed extended negotiations with Saudi officials, who eventually agreed to take in the detainees and put them through a government-run rehabilitation program that seeks to reintegrate militants into society.
The Obama administration has ruled out sending Yemenis to their homeland because it is engulfed in civil war and has an active branch of al-Qaida.
Saturday's transferred prisoners included Tariq Ba Odah, a hunger-striking inmate whom the U.S. military began force-feeding in 2007.
At its peak, Guantanamo housed as many as 780 inmates. With the latest transfers, the Pentagon said the prison population now stands at 80. The remaining prisoners include 26 detainees already cleared for release in the coming months by a U.S. government interagency task force.
Obama is seeking to make good on a 2008 campaign promise to close the facility, a vow that has met stiff opposition from Republicans both inside and outside the government. Republican 2016 presidential hopefuls have vowed to send more terror suspects to the facility rather than close it.
Guantanamo is a U.S. naval base on the southeastern Cuban coast that former President George W. Bush designated as a prison for enemy combatants just months after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The designation classified the detainees as unlawful combatants, who were not afforded legal protections under the Geneva Conventions.
Since then, the inmates' legal status has been challenged in numerous court cases.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.