Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

The U.S. was set to move 11 detainees out of Guantanamo. Then Hamas attacked Israel.

By 37ci3 May20,2024

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration was close to transferring 11 inmates At Guantanamo Bay It was deployed to a Middle Eastern country in October 2023, but abruptly halted the move amid concerns about political optics following a Hamas attack on Israel, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the plan.

More than seven months later, the administration has not set a new date for the transfer, the detainees remain at Guantánamo, and there is no clarity on when or if that will happen.

The wait disappointed administration officials who said they believed election-year politics had been suppressed President Joe Biden’s depopulation policy at Guantánamo, and finally closing the object. The chances of the transfer taking place before November’s presidential election are diminishing as the election nears, the officials said. And they worry it could turn into a human rights issue that has left 11 people in jail for months, with no clarity on when they could be moved.

Officials said that 11 detained people are either citizens of Yemen or have relations with this country. They were scheduled to be transferred to Oman, officials said.

Several US officials said an agreement on their transfer was still being negotiated with Oman, including specific timing and terms, and could happen this year. They said politics was behind the delay and the transfer was not imminent as some logistics were not completed.

A senior administration official said Oman also has not wanted the transfer to take place at times since October.

“It’s not like collecting dust somewhere. We’re actively looking at all of these administrative steps to make that happen,” he said, admitting that “there are frustrations.”

The White House’s National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment.

Democrats and Republicans have opposed the release of detainees from Guantanamo, and the issue has been a political flashpoint between multiple presidential administrations. In January, for example, top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees joined their GOP colleagues in urging the Biden administration not to authorize intelligence community funds to help facilitate any Guantanamo detainee transfers.

Biden, like President Barack Obama before him, worked to close the facility. But while Biden’s predecessor and 2024 opponent, Donald Trump, is in the White House, the transfer of prisoners will almost certainly stop.

Officials of the Biden administration, which is working to close Guantánamo, have expressed concern that these 11 prisoners, who are scheduled to be transferred in October, will not be transferred this year and will remain in prison for at least four years if Trump is re-elected.

It was inevitable when their transfer was canceled at the last minute in October, according to administration officials involved in the process. The administration had already notified Congress that the transfer would take place, a step officials said required the executive branch by law at least 30 days before Guantanamo detainees are transferred.

The transfer would reduce the population below 20 for the first time since Guantanamo began holding suspected terrorists. In January 2002.

Prison at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba
The prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba on September 20, 2021.Erin Schaff / New York Times / Redux

Biden administration officials spent months negotiating the terms of transferring the detainees to Oman, including measures to ensure the men would not become a security threat and any compensation they would receive.

Multiple U.S. officials said the decision to suspend the transfer was not related to any concerns raised by Oman or any last-minute disagreements between the U.S. and Oman. They said they believed it was the result of members of Congress, primarily Democrats close to the president, privately voicing concerns about the timing.

Many of the 11 detainees were cleared for release or transfer by the United States years ago after taking a long time to achieve that status.

As Yemen has been mired in civil war for nearly a decade, moving them was not an option. Although fighting between the Houthis and Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, has largely subsided in 2023, the country remains volatile, suffering from a widespread humanitarian crisis and terrorist attacks linked to al-Qaeda.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels have attacked ships in the Red Sea off Yemen’s coast dozens of times since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. The U.S. and coalition partners continue airstrikes to defend against Houthi attacks and remove weapons from Yemen.

The deepening turmoil in the Middle East has made the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo even more politically dangerous, officials said.

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By 37ci3

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