US sends 4 held at Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia in final push

MIAMI (AP) -- The Pentagon said Thursday that four Guantanamo prisoners have been released and sent to Saudi Arabia, part of a final push by President Barack Obama to reduce the population at the detention center in the final weeks of his administration.

The four are from Yemen and each had been held at Guantanamo for more than 14 years. They were suspected of being low-level militants with ties to al-Qaida but never charged. They were cleared for release following an extensive security review, the Department of Defense said in announcing the move.

Their release brings the Guantanamo population to 55, including 19 cleared for release. The administration has previously said that it will try to get as many of the cleared prisoners out as possible before Obama leaves office. President-elect Donald Trump this week called for a halt of releases.

They are being sent to Saudi Arabia for resettlement and are expected to take part in a rehabilitation program. The four include Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir, who refused to leave Guantanamo in January 2016 as two other prisoners were being resettled in the Balkans because he wanted to be sent to a country where he had family.

His lawyer, John Chandler, said the prisoner, who has also been identified by the name Bawazir in the past, has a brother and uncle in Saudi Arabia and his mother lives there part of the year.

Saudi Arabia "is where he wanted to go and we are grateful to the King and country for accepting him," Chandler said. "Mohammed was never accused of any crime or wrong doing and never committed any crime.  He nonetheless was held by the United States in Guantanamo for almost 15 years of his young life. "

The Pentagon identified the other prisoners as Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad, Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim and Abdallah Yahya Yusif Al-Shibli. The U.S. must find other countries to accept Yemeni prisoners because it will not send Yemeni prisoners back to their homeland, fearing that the civil war there will make it impossible to monitor them and ensure they do not return to militancy.

In Saudi Arabia, the government and state-run media did not immediately disclose the transfers. Over 130 detainees from Guantanamo have been sent to the kingdom, making it second only to Afghanistan.

Transferring the prisoners to Yemen remains impossible as the Arab world's poorest country remains in the grips of a Saudi-led war and rebels hold its capital.