The Pentagon transferred five Yemeni detainees who had been held for more than a decade at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United Arab Emirates, U.S. officials announced Sunday.
The men, all of whom were once suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda, arrived in the UAE on Saturday, officials said.
Adil Said al-Busayss, 42, Khalid Abd al-Qadasi, 46, Ali Ahmad Muhammad al-Rahizi, 36, Sulaiman al-Nahdi, 40, and Fahmi al-Sani, 38, were captured in 2001 by Pakistani and Afghan forces and eventually turned over to the United States.
Because of the conflict in Yemen and congressional prohibitions on sending Yemenis back to their native country, the Obama administration has cemented agreements with other governments to accept the detainees.
The Yemenis make up the single largest national group at the military detention facility. Sixty-four Yemenis remain at the prison, with 39 of them approved for release.
A total of 107 detainees remain at the facility, including 48 cleared for repatriation or resettlement in a third country.
President Obama has made closing the prison a priority, saying that militants use it as a recruiting tool and that it has harmed the image of the United States.
After receiving criticism for not moving quickly enough to resettle detainees, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has signed off on 15 transfers since taking the top job at the Pentagon. Nine of those have taken place since September.
“The administration is showing that if it wants to close Guantanamo, it can, and it can do it the right way by releasing people and stop holding them without charge,” said Andrea Prasow, who follows detainee issues for Human Rights Watch. “I assume the message came down pretty clearly from the president to the secretary of defense that the time is now.”
The administration hopes to reduce the Guantanamo inmate population to below 100 by the end of the year as it races to complete a plan to close the prison and win the backing of Congress.
However, administration officials and Democrats in Congress have hinted recently that the president could unilaterally close the prison, believing it to be detrimental to national security.