Sat, Jan 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Freed Guantanamo inmates arrive in Saudi Arabia

AFP, RIYADH

A former Yemeni inmate, front right, released from the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is welcomed by his family upon his arrival in Riyadh on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Four Yemenis released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay on Thursday arrived in Saudi Arabia where they had a tearful reunion with relatives, after the White House rejected a freeze on transfers.

The four were among 59 prisoners who were still being held in the detention center in Cuba.

In the Saudi capital, a reporter saw the four prisoners after they landed at a terminal normally reserved for royals at the Riyadh international airport.

Prisoners and family members wept as they saw each other for the first time in years.

One of the released inmates, Salim Ahmed bin Kanad, told reporters he felt “born again” after seeing his relatives.

Another, Mohammed Bawazir, said he hoped to move on and forget the past.

“I want to give back to my family the 15 years I lost,” he said.

Officials identified the other former prisoners as Mohammed Rajab Abu Ghanim and Abdullah Yahya al-Shalabi.

On Tuesday, US president-elect Donald Trump tweeted: “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

Hours later, outgoing US President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, said he would expect “additional transfers” before Obama hands power to Trump on Jan. 20.

Saudi King Salman has said the four Yemenis who arrived on Thursday will live in the kingdom, where they will take part in a rehabilitation and de-radicalization program, the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement.

The former prisoners appeared healthy and were all dressed in two-piece Pakistani-style tunics.

One prisoner was welcomed by 21 relatives, including children, but only a handful greeted the others.

Reporters were kept in the terminal and could not see what type of aircraft had transported them.

Obama came to office eight years ago vowing to shutter the Guantanamo facility because, he said, detention without trial did not reflect US values.

However, he has run up against political and legal hurdles, Pentagon foot-dragging and stubborn Republican opposition in US Congress.

With Guantanamo’s closure blocked, Obama’s White House has focused on whittling down the number of inmates.

Before Thursday’s transfer, about 20 of the remaining prisoners had been cleared for removal. However, finding countries to take them has often proven time-consuming.

Only a handful of those who remain have started moving through military tribunals, including the alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In recent months, Obama has authorized a flurry of transfers of prisoners to other countries, including Yemen and Saudi Arabia — prompting outrage from Republicans each time.

In April, nine Yemeni inmates were transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, the first time the kingdom received any inmates from the facility.

The move followed years of negotiations with the Saudi government.

Yemen’s civil war meant those inmates could not be sent to their home country.

Because the Guantanamo Bay naval base is on Cuban and not US soil, it is not subject to the same federal laws and legal processes as the US.

Former US president George W. Bush released or transferred about 500 inmates before leaving office. Obama had released or transferred more than 180.

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