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Five Yemenis Released from Guantanamo to Oman and Estonia

Akhmed Abdul Qadir (left) and Abd al Rahman Abdullah Abu Shabati (right)

Five Yemeni prisoners were released from Guantanamo Bay prison to Oman and Estonia on January 14. They were each men who had been unanimously approved for transfer by President Barack Obama’s interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force in 2009.

The Pentagon announcedthat Al Khadr Abdallah Muhammad Al Yafi, Fadel Hussein Saleh Hentif, Abd Al-Rahman Abdullah Au Shabati and Mohammed Ahmed Salam were transferred to Oman. Akhmed Abdul Qadir was transferred to Estonia. He was one of the youngest prisoners remaining in detention.

“It is encouraging to see the president increasing the rate of transfers and finally start dealing with the dire situation of Yemenis who were cleared for release long ago but remain detained solely because of their citizenship,” the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) stated. “Men from Yemen still make up the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo who have been unanimously cleared for release by every military and intelligence agency in the US government.”

“We hope today’s transfer signals that other cleared Yemenis, like our clients, Tariq Ba Odah, Mohammed Al Hamiri, Fahd Ghazy, and Ghaleb Al-Bihani, will soon be free. Oman is a safe, stable and culturally appropriate country for the men to make new lives in, and we hope to see many more transfers there in the near future.”

CCR attorneys represent a number of cleared men, who remain in detention and have long been awaiting release.

A Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF GTMO) detainee assessment report from 2007 [PDF], one of several hundred released to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, indicates that at one point military personnel thought Yadi was a “veteran jihadist” who had traveled to Afghanistan for “jihad,” and was possibly an Osama bin Laden bodyguard. That he had been in Afghanistan to teach the Koran was regarded as a “cover story” based on information allegedly provided by two other Guantanamo prisoners.

In 2007, Hentif was recommended for transfer by JTF-GTMO [PDF] but his detainee assessment did not recommend a change in his “enemy combatant” designation. Military personnel were particularly concerned about the Casio watch he was wearing, believing it was a similar model used by al Qaeda for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). No “intelligence” ever suggested Hentif had served as a leader or operational planner for al Qaeda.

Shabati engaged in hunger strikes. He was seized from Pakistan in December 2001 when he was 18-years-old. He has a daughter, who was born after he was captured. According to a report from Reuters, his brother, Mohammed, a Yemen Defense Ministry employee, grew increasingly frustrated in April of 2013.

“The Yemeni government says the US government does not want to hand them over and the Americans say Yemen does not want to take them,” Mohammed said. “We no longer believe anyone.”

JTF-GTMO recommended Shabati for transfer in 2007 [PDF] but continued to believe he was a fighter in bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade who could provide “intelligence” on the al Qaeda-associated Jama’at Tablighi group and its recruitment and operations in Yemen.

Hatabi, another prisoner who had the misfortune of being captured while wearing a Casio watch, was believed by military personnel to be a member of a Faisalabad, Pakistan cell that was created by Abu Zubaydah [PDF]. He was captured in raids on “safe houses” on March 28, 2002.

He insisted that he had traveled to Pakistan for medical treatment for a sinus problem. “Senior al-Qaeda members have identified medical travel as a cover story for their operatives and trainees,” JTF-GTMO indicated in his 2007 detainee assessment report [PDF].

Also captured in the same raids, Qadir was still suspected in May 2008 of withholding “intelligence” about a safe house and “hostilities against US and coalition forces” as well as “NGOs tied to extremist activities,” including al-Wafa and its director.

Remarkably, not one of these suspicions or beliefs about any of these prisoners were valid enough to keep them imprisoned. The Review Task Force, comprised of representatives from the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, and National Counterterrorism Center, cleared these men for release one to two years later.

Republican senators, as noted by Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg, have introduced legislation to further obstruct the ability of the Obama administration to close Guantanamo. They do not want any of the prisoners, regardless of whether they were cleared by the Review Task Force, to be released.

New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte declared, “This legislation would prevent this administration from transferring the most dangerous detainees to other countries and would prevent detainee transfers to Yemen-the headquarters of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and one of the most dangerous countries on earth.”

The Obama administration has not been transferring Yemenis back to their home country of Yemen. Notice that these Yemenis were sent to Oman and Estonia and not their home country.

In fact, the administration once imposed a moratorium on transfers of Yemeni prisoners, even if they had been cleared. The moratorium was lifted in May 2013, but it was not until after the midterm election on November 20, 2014, that the administration transferred any cleared Yemeni prisoners out of the facility.

The last release of prisoners was on December 31, when five Yemenis were released to Kazakhstan.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."