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Pentagon Transfers 15 Men From Guantanamo To United Arab Emirates


President Obama came to office promising to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now in the final months of his presidency, the Pentagon has just done the largest single detainee transfer of this administration. Over the weekend it sent 15 men from Guantanamo to the United Arab Emirates. That leaves just 61 detainees at the prison. The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg has covered the Guantanamo prison since it first opened. Welcome back to the show.


SHAPIRO: Who are these 15 men?

ROSENBERG: They're 12 Yemenis and three Afghans. Most of them got there in their 20s right after the detention center opened or in the first year of the detention center in 2002. The eldest is a 66-year-old Yemeni man, and the three Afghans are men that the chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided really shouldn't be returned to Afghanistan.

You know, Yemenis and Afghans are among the hardest to place because the U.S. administration is just loathe to send them back to their countries. The Emirates stood up and took these 15 men.

SHAPIRO: And in the Emirates, I understand they're going to go into sort of rehab program. What is that exactly?

ROSENBERG: I don't know a lot about it. What I understand is it starts off as a quasi-detention, and then you would end up in a halfway house. And the idea is to help them get out of the program and into the community to acquire wives. Particularly the Yemenis have been sent - families have been sending, you know, arranged marriages to some of these Gulf countries - and to help them find some stability and jobs and apartments and be able to live on their own out in the community.

SHAPIRO: As far as you know, what does the UAE get in return for accepting these men?

ROSENBERG: You know, the official answer is the gratitude of the president of the United States. I don't know what the rest of the package is. I don't know that a country like the UAE necessarily needs something specifically. And I think when you get to smaller places like Palau and Bermuda, which have taken detainees for the Obama administration, there may be something more.

SHAPIRO: Republicans in Congress have expressed concern about these transfers. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce of California, put out a statement saying, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat. What is the record for Guantanamo detainees going back to fight against the U.S. and its allies?

ROSENBERG: So this is a really complicated issue because the numbers come from the director of National Intelligence, which do not tell us exactly who, when, where. But what we are told is that of the Bush releases - and he released more than 500 detainees - 30 percent of them are suspected or confirmed of reengaging.

The Obama administration, which has negotiated more individual-style resettlement situations - this one isn't one of them - has said that they've had much more success. Five percent or less of their transfers have ended up on that suspected or reengaged recidivist list.

SHAPIRO: So now this prison camp that was built to house hundreds has 61 people in it. I was shocked to see you reported that the cost per prisoner is now more than $7 million a year each. What do you think the chances are that this prison will be empty by the time President Obama leaves office?

ROSENBERG: Personally, I don't think it's going to happen. I think that the president either has to defy Congress or get the cooperation of Congress to move the last detainees to the United States. And he hasn't shown a willingness to defy Congress, and Congress hasn't shown a willingness to help him close the detention center.

What I do want to point out is that it's not just one prison. It is a sprawling compound at Guantanamo. So when we talk about 61 detainees, they're spread across several different detention settings. And right now, the way that thing is operated, they have between 1,950 to 2,200 troops and civilians running it. So while the detention center has very few detainees, it's still a huge operation.

SHAPIRO: Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, thanks very much.

ROSENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.