WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Thursday that it had transferred 10 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the Arabian nation of Oman.
The transfers bring the number of detainees remaining at the military prison to 93, as President Obama continues to try to make good on his campaign promise to close the facility — or at least vastly reduce the number of detainees.
"This chipping away at the population ... certainly is what we can do right now," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday after another detainee had been transferred to Saudi Arabia. "And we have made some progress in reducing the population at the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But ultimately, to accomplish the goal of closing it, we're going to need Congress to remove some obstacles that have prevented it thus far."
Republicans on Capitol Hill said transferring detainees to other countries — where they could be released and returned to the battlefield — was not a solution.
“The administration’s mad rush to push detainees on allies and partners has to stop," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif. "Americans deserve to know who the administration will release next, where they are going, and what confidence the administration has they won’t return to terrorist activities.”
But in his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama once again called on Congress to close the Guantanamo completely. "It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies," he said.
The most recent batch of released detainees 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.
Muqbil was on the first plane to Guantanamo in January 2002, according to the human rights group Reprieve, which applauded his release Thursday.
"We are delighted that the Omani government has given him the chance to rebuild his life and, we hope, to reconnect with his family," said Cory Crider, a lawyer for the detainees. "But the abuses Samir exposed to the world continue to this day — and the force-feeding videotapes I've watched would make your blood run cold. That's why the solicitor general ought to let Americans see the footage — the tapes make an exquisite case for why Guantanamo Bay has to close."
The Department of Defense said all 10 were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the Guantanamo Review Task Force. President Obama set up the task force after his inauguration to screen detainees for release. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also signed off on the transfers and notified Congress, the Pentagon said.
"We will continue to transfer Guantanamo detainees to other countries when and as we have mitigated any security risk to the United States," Carter said at a change-of-command ceremony at U.S. Southern Command in Miami Thursday. He commended the Southern Command for its "exceedingly difficult mission" to operate the prison even as "we work diligently to close this chapter in our history,"
Of the 93 remaining detainees, ten are subject to criminal charges, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. Thirty-four others have been deemed safe for transfer, contingent upon finding another country willing to take them, and 49 are still eligible for transfer.