Oman agrees to take Guantanamo inmates at Obama’s request

The US' detention centre at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Picture: AP
The US' detention centre at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Picture: AP
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Oman has accepted ten inmates from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay ahead of president Barack Obama leaving office.

There was no immediate word from the US Defence Department about details the transfer.

Oman’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Oman News Agency that it had accepted the prisoners at Mr Obama’s request. It did not name the prisoners.

The sultanate of Oman, on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, previously accepted ten Guantanamo prisoners from Yemen in January 2016. Oman also took six inmates in June 2015.

Meanwhile, Oman’s neighbour, Saudi Arabia, took four prisoners on 5 January, and the United Arab Emirates took 15 prisoners in the largest single transfer during Mr Obama’s administration on 
15 August last year.

Oman, ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said since 1970, has served as an interlocutor between the West and Iran. It has also negotiated a number of prisoner releases in recent years for Western countries.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, remains in the grips of a civil war and a Saudi-led military offensive against the rebels, making returning Guantanamo inmates there impossible.

Authorities recently said that 19 of the remaining 55 prisoners at the US military base in Cuba were cleared for release and could be freed in the final days of Mr Obama’s presidency.

The transfers come as part of an effort by Mr Obama to shrink the prison’s population, since he could not close it.

President-elect Donald Trump said during his campaign that he not only wants to keep Guantanamo Bay open but “load it up with some bad dudes”.

The US began using its military base on south-east Cuba’s isolated, rocky coast to hold prisoners captured during the Afghanistan invasion, bringing the first planeload on 11 January, 2002. It reached a peak 18 months later of nearly 680.

There were 242 prisoners when Mr Obama took office in 2009, having pledged to close the site, which had come in for international criticism over the mistreatment of detainees and the notion of holding people indefinitely, most without charge.

Mr Obama was unable to close the base because of Congressional opposition to holding any of the men in the US. That ultimately became a ban on transferring them to US soil for any reason, including trial, making the failure to close the site part of his legacy.