Five prisoners who have been held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for over 13 years were released and sent to the United Arab Emirates on Nov. 14, according to the Pentagon.
Defense Department authorities determined that the five men no longer posed a threat to the United States and were thus chosen for resettlement, the Associated Press reports. All five prisoners are originally from Yemen, and their release from the prison brings Guantanamo's prison population to 107 inmates.
None of the prisoners were charged with a crime when they were captured, but they had instead been detained as enemy combatants. The U.S. government arranged for the prisoners to be sent to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rather than to Yemen, their home country, as the U.S. considers Yemen to currently be too unstable to accept prisoners from Guantanamo.
President Barack Obama has sought to reduce Guantanamo Bay's prison population during his time in office, and has reduced it by more than 50 percent. However, the issue is rife with controversy and was recently taken up by Congress, where a military spending bill that bans moving Guantanamo detainees to the United States passed the Senate 91-3 on Nov. 10.
This bill also passed the House during the first week of November, 370-58, The New York Times reported. With these veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, it is unclear what Obama will do when the bill reaches his desk.
He already vetoed the bill in October, citing both funding disagreements and the ban on closing Guantanamo Bay. The bill explicitly prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil as well as the use of funds to construct a prison in the United States for such detainees.
While Congress mostly conceded on Obama's funding concerns, they kept the Guantanamo Bay provisions in the bill. This may prove to be a major roadblock for Obama, since he planned to close Guantanamo Bay during his time in office by transferring the rest of the detainees to other prisons -- including to some on U.S. soil.
Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas and South Carolina were particularly concerned about the closing of Guantanamo Bay after a Pentagon report identified prisons in these three states as candidates for housing ex-Guantanamo detainees, should the prison be closed in the future, AP reports.
"Why in the world you would bring these enemy combatants to domestic soil is mind-boggling. This is absolutely nothing short of gambling national security to keep a campaign promise?" Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said on Nov. 9.
On that same day, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Obama wants to work with Congress on the issue of shutting down Guantanamo Bay, but left room open for the possibility of executive action.
"I'm not aware of any ongoing effort to devise a strategy using only the president's executive authority to accomplish this goal," he said. "But I certainly wouldn't, as I mentioned last week, take that option off the table."