The US military transferred a detainee from the Guantánamo Bay prison into the custody of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, the first such transfer under President Donald Trump, who during the campaign vowed to not only keep it open but “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Instead, the notorious war prison’s population is going down.
The detainee, Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi, has been in the custody of the US military since August 2002 and was brought to Guantánamo Bay in March 2003.
He pleaded guilty to terrorism and other war crimes during the Obama administration, on Feb. 20, 2014, after prosecutors promised he could serve part of his sentence in Saudi Arabia.
But the date for his scheduled transfer in February of this year passed, and he remained at Guantánamo, raising questions about whether the Trump administration would honor deals made during the Obama administration.
Al-Darbi will serve out the remaining nine years of his 13-year sentence in Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said in a statement, noting that he waived his right to appeal.
“The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with established standards for security and humane treatment,” the Pentagon said.
Al-Darbi had also testified in the war court against two other men awaiting trials — the alleged architect of the USS Cole bombing on Oct. 12, 2000, and an Iraqi man accused of commanding al-Qaida insurgents in Afghanistan after 9/11.
The last transfer of a detainee happened the day before Trump's inauguration, on Jan. 19, 2017. In January this year, Trump signed an executive order to keep the military detention center open.The executive order gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis 90 days to draft recommendations for new guidelines on transferring new individuals captured on the battlefield to the prison. On Wednesday, a day after the deadline, the Pentagon announced that Mattis had sent the White House “an updated policy governing the criteria for transfer of individuals to the detention facility at US Naval Station Guantánamo Bay."
Defense officials did not provide details about what these recommendations entailed, however."This policy provides our warfighters guidance on nominating detainees for transfer to Guantánamo detention should that person present a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States," Pentagon spokesperson Cdr. Sarah Higgins said in a statement.
During the campaign, Trump vowed that he would keep the prison open and fill it up with terrorists.
“We're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up,” he said in a February 2016 speech.
So far, that has not happened. Instead Wednesday’s transfer reduces the number of detainees at the war prison to 40.
Closing the prison, which was opened in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as a way to keep suspected terrorists off the battlefield, was one of President Barack Obama’s main campaign promises in 2008. However, roadblocks in Congress and other issues forced it down the priority list. At the beginning of his second term in 2013, hunger strikes among the detainees brought the issue back into the public eye.
Obama reduced the number of detainees at Guantánamo from 245 to 41 during his time in office.