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Pentagon Transfers 10 Gitmo Detainees To Oman


The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the emptiest it's been in nearly 14 years. Fewer than a hundred detainees remain after 10 were transferred last night to Oman. That's the largest group ever sent to a single nation. It's all part of President Obama's drive to close the military prison before he leaves office. Joining us to talk about it is NPR's national security correspondent David Welna.

Hi David.


SHAPIRO: First tell us more about this latest transfer of 10 detainees to Oman.

WELNA: Well, all 10 of them are from Yemen, like most of the detainees who've been held in Guantanamo for years after being cleared for release. The problem's been where to send them because Yemen's been so chaotic that no detainee's been sent there for more than six years. Two dozen countries have received Guantanamo detainees who can't go home. None has taken in more of them than Oman.

SHAPIRO: Take a step back, David, and remind us of the broader history of detainee transfers out of Guantanamo Bay.

WELNA: Right. Well, the Bush administration did manage to move out more than 500 captives, but President Obama has run into a lot more political resistance, especially from Congress. Obama has managed to transfer 34 detainees in the past year. That still leaves 34 others who've also been cleared for release, and the administration aims to have all of them out by this summer.

SHAPIRO: How realistic does that sound to you?

WELNA: Well, you know, it would require a lot more cooperation from Capitol Hill. Just today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce issued a statement saying, quote, "the administration's mad rush to push detainees on allies and partners has to stop." That follows the collective tug on the ear that Obama gave lawmakers the other night in his State of the Union address. The nation's leadership worldwide, he told them, depends on the example it sets.


BARACK OBAMA: That's why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. It is expensive, it is unnecessary and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.


OBAMA: There's a better way.

SHAPIRO: There's a better way. Any idea what that way might be?

WELNA: Well, you know, the president gave no details the other night, but he has promised to send Congress a plan for closing Guantanamo. Some of it was revealed today by Defense Secretary Ash Carter who was installing a new commander to oversee Guantanamo. While he noted that the detainee population there now stands at 93, Carter also warned that not everyone can be safely transferred to another country.


ASH CARTER: So we need an alternative. I've therefore framed for the president a proposal to establish an alternative location. That plan will propose bringing those detainees to an appropriate secure location in the United States. Congress has indicated a willingness to consider such a proposal.

WELNA: But Carter did not say Congress has shown a willingness to approve such a proposal.

SHAPIRO: That being the case, do you think this plan to move detainees to the U.S. stands any chance of passing?

WELNA: Well, during this election year, I'd say it's zero to none in terms of chances. Congress has already banned any funds from being used to transfer or house Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil, and House Speaker Paul Ryan was pretty blunt late last year when asked about other options for those captives.


PAUL RYAN: I think Guantanamo detainees should be in Guantanamo.

WELNA: You know, I don't think administration officials really expect Congress to play ball on this. Once that becomes clear, if a plan to close Guantanamo does get rejected, I think the president would either have to give up or act on his own. And some former administration officials have urged him to use his power as commander-in-chief to shut down Guantanamo and bring the five dozen or so nontransferable detainees here to the U.S. White House officials won't confirm he'd do that, but they're also not ruling it out.

SHAPIRO: OK. Thanks for the update.

WELNA: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's national security correspondent David Welna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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