- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Obama administration has begun shipping newly cleared Guantanamo Bay inmates abroad, including three sent at week’s end to Saudi Arabia, to regain momentum in its effort to close the prison camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

The prospects for any transfers of Guantanamo inmates to the mainland U.S. have dimmed in recent weeks as Congress acted to block funding to pay for the moves. And foreign countries have been hesitant to take even cleared detainees who were deemed not to pose security threats.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration has not abandoned the possibility of releasing detainees in the U.S., but he added that national security considerations would govern any moves.

“We’re not going to make any decisions about transfer or release that threatens the security of the country,” Mr. Gibbs said at the end of a week in which nine detainees were transferred under high security to foreign nations, and one to the United States to face trial.

Mr. Gibbs said the release of those detainees showed “marked progress” and other decisions were being made on a case-by-case basis. President Obama said last month that the cases of 50 detainees had been reviewed - and the administration said 48 of them were waiting for release to foreign nations.

Authorities announced Friday that three detainees - Khalid Saad Mohammed, Abdalaziz Kareem Salim Al Noofayaee and Ahmed Zaid Salim Zuhair - had been sent home to Saudi Arabia.

The Justice Department said the trio will be subject to judicial review in Saudi Arabia before they participate in a “rehabilitation” program administered by the Saudi government.

U.S. officials said they were close to a deal with Saudi Arabia and Yemen under which Saudi Arabia would take about 100 Yemeni detainees and place them in Saudi-run terrorist-rehabilitation centers.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private diplomatic contacts, would not say how many Yemenis might be transferred or when the agreement might be finalized.

Negotiations on the fate of the Yemeni inmates have been under way for months, stalled over a Saudi demand that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh publicly endorse the proposal, the officials said. Mr. Saleh had refused to do so, fearing a backlash among his people, the officials said, and, as of late last month, he preferred for Yemen to set up its own centers.

Mr. Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo by early next year, and U.S. officials have been searching for places to resettle detainees, lobbying hard with foreign governments. The pace of those efforts picked up last month after Congress said it would prevent detainees, even those cleared of wrongdoing, from being brought to the U.S.

This week alone, the administration transferred 10 detainees out of Guantanamo. Two were sent to Chad and Iraq, one was brought to New York to stand trial in civilian court, four were sent to Bermuda and three to Saudi Arabia. A deal in principle has been reached with the Pacific island nation of Palau to accept some others.

That leaves 229 detainees still at the U.S. military detention center in Cuba.


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