Guantanamo population below 100 as 10 Yemenis sent to Oman

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A Yemeni prisoner who had been cleared to leave Guantanamo Bay after nearly 14 years has opted to stay in the military prison for now, a Pentagon spokesman said

A Yemeni prisoner who had been cleared to leave Guantanamo Bay after nearly 14 years has opted to stay in the military prison for now, a Pentagon spokesman said (AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov)

Muscat (AFP) - Ten Yemeni former inmates from the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay arrived in Oman on Thursday, Muscat's foreign ministry said, as Washington struggles to close the notorious prison.

The transfer is the largest to a single country at any one time under the administration of US President Barack Obama, and brings the facility's population down to 93.

About 780 inmates have been held there since it opened in January 2002. It is the first time since then the population has dropped below 100 -- a significant milestone in the facility's history.

"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," US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said in Florida.

"Like every transfer that came before it, the decision to transfer these detainees happened only after a thorough review by me and other senior security officials of the government."

The 10 men are: Fahed Abdullah Ahmad Ghazi, Samir Naji al-Hasan Muqbil, Adham Mohamed Ali Awad, Mukhtar Yahya Naji al-Warafi, Abu Bakr Ibn Muhammad al-Ahdal, Muhammad Salih Husayn al-Shaykh, Muhammad Said Salim Bin Salman, Said Muhammad Salih Hatim, Umar Said Salim al-Dini, and Fahmi Abdallah Ahmad Ubadi al-Tulaqi.

Oman received the men "in response to a request by the US administration for help to resolve the issue of detainees at Guantanamo Bay," the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency ONA.

The statement did not give further details, but typically Guantanamo inmates are released on condition they undergo a rehabilitation or reintegration programme to make sure they do not threaten US security interests.

- Still opposed by Congress -

Human rights groups welcomed the latest releases.

"Now that the Guantanamo population is below 100 for the first time in its history, the momentum to finally close Guantanamo has never been stronger," Amnesty International USA said in a statement.

"That momentum can't be lost. It's time for Congress to stop standing in the way and stop playing political games with the lives of the men who remain there. All detainees should either be tried in federal court or released."

The Republican-controlled Congress has thwarted Obama's repeated efforts to close Guantanamo.

He came to office in 2009 vowing to shutter the facility, which opened under his predecessor George W. Bush to hold suspects after the September 11, 2001 attacks and became known for harsh interrogation techniques that some have said were tantamount to torture.

Inmates were called "enemy combatants" and denied standard US legal rights, meaning many were held for years without charge or trial.

In his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama again urged Congress to help him close the detention facility.

"It's expensive, it's unnecessary and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies," he said.

But US House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul blasted Thursday's transfers, calling the move reckless.

"This month, he will have released close to 20 percent of the facility's population, even though intelligence officials suspect nearly one-third of terrorists freed from the facility have returned to the fight," he said, using a widely disputed recidivism figure.

The United States has been working to repatriate low-risk inmates from the Guantanamo facility, located at a US naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

Another former Guantanamo inmate was repatriated this week to Saudi Arabia, where he was to join the kingdom's programme to rehabilitate militants.

On January 9, the last Kuwaiti prisoner at the detention centre returned home to a family reception after 14 years of detention.

And a day earlier, two other Yemeni ex-detainees were transferred to Ghana.