The Pentagon transferred five Yemenis from the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to foreign custody on Wednesday in the first handover of detainees in 2015, sending four to Oman and one to Estonia despite Republican calls for a moratorium on the resettlements.
U.S. officials said the men, held for a dozen or more years, were cleared for release nearly five years ago by a multiagency task force that included intelligence, diplomatic and military officials.
Al Khadr Abdallah Muhammad al-Yafi, Fadel Hussein Saleh Hentif, Abd al-Rahman Abdullah Au Shabati and Mohammed Ahmed Salam were sent to Oman, according to the Department of Defense, and Akhmed Abdul Qadir, one of the youngest prisoners at the camp, was transferred to Estonia.
The five were captured in Pakistan and detained by the U.S. as suspected Al-Qaeda fighters. U.S. officials later determined it was no longer necessary to detain them but have struggled to find other countries willing to take them in.
The transfer took place just a day after several Republican senators, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, proposed legislation to place a moratorium on the release of most of the Guantánamo prisoners, saying they posed too much of a threat to the United States and its allies.
President Barack Obama has promised to close the internationally condemned detention center, which President George W. Bush opened after 9/11 to detain individuals who were rounded up overseas in the “war on terrorism.”
Obama recently pledged to step up the closure effort, and the administration moved 28 prisoners from Guantánamo in 2014 — the most since 2009. But he faces significant obstacles to closing the prison, including a ban imposed by Congress on the transfer of prisoners to the U.S. mainland.
"We are committed to closing the detention facility. That's our goal, and we are working toward that goal," said Ian Moss, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department on Guantánamo issues.
The transfer on Wednesday leaves 122 detainees at the prison. Fifty-four of them, including 47 Yemenis, have been approved for resettlement, while the rest are considered too dangerous to release.
Most of the detainees have been held for a decade or more without being charged or tried.
Many of the inmates at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison run by the U.S. in Iraq, were probably innocent and were taken into custody "without regard for whether they were truly enemy combatants or, in fact, whether many of them were enemies at all," a former State Department official revealed in 2010.
Al Jazeera with wire services