Pentagon releases 10 detainees from Guantánamo to Oman

Pentagon releases 10 detainees from Guantánamo to Oman
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The Pentagon has released 10 Yemeni detainees from the Guantánamo prison camp to Oman, the largest release yet to one country by the Obama administration. 

The transfer, conducted early Wednesday morning, brings the population at the Cuban prison to 93 — reaching the Obama administration's plan to bring the number below 100 by early this year. 

"Just last night, after a deliberate and careful review, we completed the transfer of 10 Yemenis — roughly 10 percent of the total remaining Gitmo population — to the government of Oman," Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday in remarks at U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

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The latest transfer brings the number of detainees released from the prison in 2016 up to 14. The Pentagon is expected to transfer three more by the end of this month. 

From there, the plan is to transfer all detainees who have been approved by a periodic review board established by executive order, and then bring the remaining detainees to the U.S., a move staunchly opposed by Republican members of Congress. 

The administration has argued it's too expensive to maintain the prison in Cuba, and that it serves as a recruitment tool for terrorists. 

"I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantánamo. It’s expensive, it’s unnecessary and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies," President Obama said during his final State of the Union this week

Carter said while the Pentagon works with Congress on a plan to bring detainees to the a secure location in the U.S., it would continue transfers.

Republicans had blasted the planned transfer in statements this week, calling the continuing release of detainees dangerous and an attempt to circumvent law that bans any transfers to Yemen, which is next door to Oman, undergoing a civil war, and home to al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate. 

“While current law bans the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, the administration may attempt to circumvent that prohibition by sending terrorist detainees to the neighboring country of Oman," said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteExplaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid Trump voter fraud panel member fights back against critics Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada MORE (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

She noted that one detainee, Ibrahim al Qosi, is now a leader and spokesman for the Yemeni Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. She also said that according to public reports, one or both of the brothers who carried out Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks in Paris in November had traveled from Oman to Yemen to receive training by AQAP. 

"The administration’s failure to tell the American people the truth about these terrorists suggests what we know to be the case: these transfers will make Americans less safe," she said. 

The response from human rights groups was mostly celebratory, but some remained concerned that even if detainees were transferred to the U.S., they would still be held indefinitely without trial. 

“Today’s transfer is a milestone, it’s the largest detainee transfer since 2009 and the first time Guantánamo’s population has dipped below 100 since 2002," said Amnesty International USA's Security and Human Rights Program director, Naureen Shah. "With today’s transfers, however, the president has shown he will not be stymied by Congress when it comes to removing the ugly brand of Guantánamo from the nation’s human rights record."

However, Amnesty International executive director Margaret Huang wrote earlier this week that the plan to bring detainees to the U.S. would be a "new set of horrors." 

"Yes, the prison must be closed — but not merely by changing Guantánamo's zip code. All of the detainees there must be fairly tried, or be released. And in a climate of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate, bringing indefinite 'national security' detention to the U.S. mainland would open a Pandora's Box," she said.