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July 11, 2016

Three Guantanamo Detainees Transferred to Italy, Serbia

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today praised the transfer of three Guantanamo detainees to Italy and Serbia, noting that the pace of transfers must increase if the facility is to close by the end of President Obama’s term in office. 

“The transfer of these three detainees is an encouraging sign, but we urge President Obama to pick up the pace of transfers for all those who have been cleared by national security agencies,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. 

This weekend’s transfers included Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman, a Yemeni citizen, who spent 14 years at Guantanamo Bay before being transferred to Italy yesterday. Abdul Rahman Ahmed, a Yemeni citizen, and Omar Hamzayavich Abdulayev were transferred to Serbia. Both men were cleared for transfer in 2009.

The three transfers come weeks after the Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill includes language that would make it nearly impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that national security leaders from across the political spectrum have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering this facility a top priority. Both the Senate and House versions of the NDAA would extend unnecessary bans on transferring detainees to the United States until after President Obama leaves office. The bills also extend country-specific transfer bans, with the Senate version expanding the number of prohibited locations. Both bills include cumbersome overseas transfer restrictions that make it more difficult, but not impossible, for the administration to transfer detainees.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon released the administration’s plan for closing Guantanamo, which includes the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared for transfer by defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. It also mandates expedited review, pursuant to administrative Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings, of the remaining detainees who are not facing trial to determine if they can be cleared for transfer. The remaining detainees who will not be transferred in the near term—a number unlikely to exceed 60— would be relocated to one of 13 stateside detention facilities, pending Congressional approval. This would result in annual operating savings of up to $85 million compared to the cost of detention operations at Guantanamo. There are currently 76 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs approximately $445 million per year to operate, about $5.5 million per detainee. Twenty-seven detainees have been unanimously cleared for transfer by six national security and intelligence agencies.

Thirty-six retired generals and admirals of the U.S. Armed Forces sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, urging them to carefully consider the Obama Administration’s plan to close Guantanamo, and to work with the president to shutter the detention facility. “Closing Guantanamo will not be easy, but it is the right thing to do, and we call on you to work together to accomplish it. We take heart that our nation has elected people who will exercise their conscientious judgment, but who will not allow politics to obscure courage,” wrote the generals and admirals.

“It is up to President Obama to signal to policymakers that closing Guantanamo remains a priority for his administration,” noted Wala. “If he doesn’t act accordingly, his administration’s failure to close Guantanamo will remain a stain on his legacy.”

For more information or to speak with Wala, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.