U.S. transfers 15 inmates at Guantanamo in push to close prison during Obama presidency

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (UPI) — President Barack Obama‘s administration on Monday transferred more than a dozen detainees at the controversial naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the Middle East as part of government efforts to close the facility by the time Obama leaves office.

U.S. officials said in its announcement that 15 detainees — 12 from Yemen and three from Afghanistan — were transferred Monday to the United Arab Emirates, an American ally that agreed to receive the inmates. It is the largest single transfer of detainees in Obama’s presidency.

Administration officials have been trying to get the U.A.E. to accept the transfers since last year.

All 15 detainees will undergo rehabilitation in the Middle East aimed at de-radicalizing them, officials said.

Monday’s transfers leaves just 61 inmates at the Cuban prison, which opened after 9/11 as a detention facility for suspected terrorist operatives. Since then, though, the prison has stood at the epicenter of numerous controversies — particularly allegations of torture during George W. Bush‘s administration.

Obama pledged to close the prison just days after taking office in 2009, but staunch resistance in Congress has made that prospect very difficult.

The president has said he intends to have Guantanamo closed by the time he leaves office on Jan. 20, 2017.

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The U.S. Department of Defense on Monday thanked the U.A.E. for agreeing to make a “humanitarian gesture.”

“The United States is grateful to the Government of the United Arab Emirates for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Defense Department stated. “The United States coordinated with the Government of the United Arab Emirates to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

Part of the trouble in closing the prison are congressional restrictions that bar transferring any detainees to U.S. prisons — leaving Obama’s administration to search for places overseas willing to accept them.

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