The United States has transferred 15 inmates from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba to the United Arab Emirates, according to a report by AFP Monday, marking it the largest single exodus from the U.S. prison under President Barack Obama’s watch.
"It's a significant repudiation of the idea that Guantanamo is going to be open for business for the indefinite future," Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA's security and human rights program director, told AFP.
Closing the military prison was one of Obama’s campaign promises in 2008. However, he has so far failed to do so, citing congressional resistance, despite calls from activists to shutter the prison using his executive authority.
Obama has pushed for more transfers, despite resistance from the Congress and within the Pentagon. Under former President George W. Bush, however, large transfers were more frequent.
The latest transfers bring the number of detainees left at Guantanamo down to 61. Some of those released had been held in the prison from more than a decade without trial.
The Guantanamo prison has held about 780 inmates in all since it was opened by Bush shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
The reduction in imates is part of Obama’s alternativer plan for closing down Guantanamo, which seeks to reduce the number of inmates enough that the prison would no longer be needed.
Last year, Washington finalized a deal with more than a dozen of its allies to take in 52 Guantanamo prisoners already cleared for transfer.
Over the years the prison has come under repeated criticism for harsh and illegal treatment of prisoners held there. The U.S. military and other agencies operate under different regulations outside the U.S. territories, thus allowing them to use torture, hold prisoners without trials and carry out other illegal practices otherwise not permitted inside the United States, though still forbidden under international law.
Also on Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously said that a 2006 law that created military commissions prevented former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Jawad from suing the U.S. government in U.S. courts for damages over torture.
He was arrested in Afghanistan when he 15 and spent six years in Guantanamo.
The ruling, however, noted that Jawad was interrogated more than 60 times, and that those sessions occurred even after the government decided he had no useful intelligence. The interrogations included the use excessive cold, loud noise, beatings, pepper-spray and shackling for prolonged periods of time.