The U.S. transferred 16 prisoners from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to authorities in Saudi Arabia Monday. The transfer represents the largest exodus of detainees from the controversial prison site since December 2006, when 34 detainees (the Washington Post originally reported the number as 33) were returned to their home countries. The Post reports that the move is indicative of "the Bush administration's desire to reduce the prison population there."
Upon arrival in Riyadh, the detainees -- among them Jumah al-Dossari, who has reportedly attempted suicide nearly two dozen times since being captured in 2001 -- were allowed to meet with family members. Al-Dossari is the detainee whose letters to his lawyers were excerpted in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. In them, al-Dossari wrote,
"At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers ... They have beaten me unconscious ...
"I am not a member of Al Qaeda. I did not encourage anyone to go fight for Al Qaeda ... I like the United States, and I am not an enemy. I have lived in the United States, and I wanted to become a citizen ... If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune."
In April, the Post reported that about 85 of the 385 inmates at the prison had been cleared for release but that the administration was having trouble finding countries that would accept them, and 82 were still at Guantánamo. There is also concern about sending former prisoners back to countries such as Libya and Tunisia where they might face torture.
Al Jazeera English reports today that the Saudi Press Agency quoted a Saudi official as saying that "King Abdullah, the Saudi ruler, is keen to free all detainees" previously held at the prison.