U.S. Transfers Two Detainees In Step Towards An Empty Guantanamo

A Guantanamo detainee holds on to a fence inside the detention center CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MICHELLE SHEPHARD, POOL
A Guantanamo detainee holds on to a fence inside the detention center CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MICHELLE SHEPHARD, POOL

The Department of Defense announced on Monday that it had over the weekend quietly transferred two more of the detainees being held at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, a seeming increase in tempo of such transfers only days after another set of prisoners was removed from the camp.

In a release sent out Monday morning, the Pentagon announced the transfer of Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood from the detention center to their home country of Saudi Arabia. According to the release, the decision to send the two to Saudi Arabia was the result of a 2009 review from the Guantanamo Review Task Force, charged with assessing the status of each of Guantanamo’s inmates. After the panel reviewed their case, both Qahtani and Hamood were “designated for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.”


The Saudi government sent aircraft to retrieve the duo, according to the Miami Herald, who were among the last 11 Saudi citizens to be held in captivity at the detention facility. Their transfer comes just days after two Algerian citizens were returned to their home country, a move that the administration announced was in the works back in July. Before the Algerians, the last transfer from the base was in April 2012, when 11 ethnic Uighurs were sent to El Salvador rather than being returned to their native China where many feared they would face repression.

This weekend’s transfer drops the number of detainees currently being held down to 160, from a peak of about 660 ten years ago. If Sudanese media reports are accurate, that number may drop further in the coming days as Khartoum believes the last two Sudanese nationals are also expected to be transferred. “The U.S. has made real progress in responsibly transferring Guantánamo detainees despite the burdensome legislative restrictions that have impeded our efforts,” Paul Lewis, the Defense Department’s special envoy assigned to close Gitmo, said in a statement. “The United States coordinated with the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure that these transfers took place with appropriate security assurances and in a way that is consistent with our humane treatment policy.”

After years of delay, the last few weeks have seen the renewed efforts to close the military facility begin to show through. Congress last week agreed to a compromise that would increase the number of detainees transferred to third countries, potentially halving the total number of inmates on the Cuban outpost. The first commander of the facility last week also penned an op-ed calling it “a prison that should never have been opened.”