In the largest operation of its kind, the United States deported 15 Guantanamo inmates—12 Yemenis and three Afghanis—to the UAE last week.
The sudden news caught the public’s attention, not because the inmates were being deported to the UAE, but rather due to their large number. The batch of detainees is by far the largest number of Guantanamo inmates being moved to a country.
What is equally interesting is that this is not the first time that the UAE has welcomed ex-Guantanamo prisoners; in November 2015, the country received six of them. The news back then was met with a lukewarm reaction from the media and was soon forgotten.
No country has accepted such a large number of Guantanamo detainees at one time, nor is it known of any other country taking in more than one batch. And there is no guarantee that the UAE won’t take in more.
Over the past 15 years, some 56 countries from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America have hosted Guantanamo detainees in small numbers, never more than six. Qatar hosted six inmates; both Bahrain and Jordan took in five prisoners each; Somalia received three while Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania hosted two detainees, each.
With 21 Guantanamo prisoners now present on the UAE’s soil, questions are beginning to arise. Why does the UAE have to welcome two batches? What makes this relatively small country able to host such a large number of detainees, some of whom are considered the world’s most dangerous inmates? Will this large number of prisoners compromise the UAE’s security and stability?
It is worth noting that the terrorism charges brought against 80 percent of Guantanamo detainees are baseless. Most of these prisoners are innocent, as per the U.S. government itself. However, due to the troubled security situation in their homeland, it was hard for the detainees to return home.
Furthermore, the highly politicized issue of the Guantanamo detainees has rendered their trial in the U.S. unjust, and has prevented them from integrating into the U.S. society, though the U.S. is much more capable of hosting these detainees than any other country. Their inability to go back home or get integrated in the U.S. society, has therefore, pushed many of those detainees to stay in the Guantanamo Bay Prison.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama was unable to fulfill his campaign’s promise of closing down Guantanamo Bay Prison. All he was able to do was minimize the number of inmates to the lowest possible figure.
The infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility has become a black point in the history of the U.S. Deporting Guantanamo detainees to any country in the world involves numerous factors including the prisoner’s personal choice, and the host country’s approval, as there is no law that can force a detainee to go to a country even if it were his own.
Most of Guantanamo Bay detainees belong to poor countries with a dire security situation and violent clashes, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. The detainees thus face many threats and may even be prosecuted again in their own country. Perhaps that is why these detainees prefer not to return home. What is certain is that the first and second batches of prisoners have voluntarily picked the UAE as their host country, perhaps for reasons that include:
- Its close proximity to their homelands in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.
- They may have relatives living in the UAE which has a large Afghani and Yemeni diaspora.
- The UAE’s political stability and flourishing economy guarantees a safe and comfortable standard of living.
However, even if the UAE is the primary choice for Guantanamo detainees, it does not mean that they are automatically accepted by the host country.
There is no doubt that when the UAE decided to welcome these prisoners, it thoroughly conducted a background check and studied the inmates’ files to ensure that they do not constitute a security threat.
Moreover, the UAE is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. It is a country that is keen on maintaining its security and stability, and seems sure of its capabilities to counter any threat that welcoming the detainees may pose. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the UAE has prior experience in dealing with detainees when it hosted the first batch of Guantanamo prisoners. Aside from the experience, all host countries have a list of preconditions before welcoming detainees.
Perhaps the top reason for the UAE to host these prisoners is the humanitarian aspect. Those detainees have suffered a lot due to their unjust imprisonment. Their prolonged detention has closed all doors for them to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives and some of them have fallen into despair.
Another reason for the UAE to host these prisoners is due to the insistence of its ally, the U.S. The UAE approved the first batch of detainees following President Obama’s request for assistance in closing the contentious Guantanamo case. And perhaps, by hosting these detainees, the UAE believes it can further cement its bilateral relations with the U.S., though it knows that the political benefits of such a step would come in the longer run. This is evident in the U.S. Defense Ministry’s statement, in which it thanked the UAE for hosting the detainees.
Whatever the motives, it remains certain that the UAE’s decision to host Guantanamo detainees are on its own terms, which the U.S. has accepted. These include:
- A 24-hour surveillance of detainees for an extended period of time.
- The detainees accept that their movement within the UAE will be restricted to certain geographical areas and that they will not travel outside the country, at least for a certain period.
- The detainees must voluntarily accept a surveillance of their phones, internet and personal communication.
- The detainees must voluntarily accept to undergo a rehabilitation program to lead a normal law-abiding life in the future.
The UAE has scored merit points when it decided to host this large number of Guantanamo detainees last week. It has further proven that it won’t hesitate to take hard and brave decisions. Such decisions are what differentiate the UAE’s diplomatic efforts and strong security measures from those of other countries in the region.
History will certainly take note of the fact that UAE lent a hand in helping to bring an end to the suffering of these Guantanamo detainees.