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U.S. sends 9 Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia

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(Last Updated On: April 18, 2016)

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The United States on Saturday transferred nine Yemeni men to Saudi Arabia from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, including an inmate who had been on a hunger strike since 2007, under a long-sought diplomatic deal between Washington and Riyadh, U.S. officials said.

The transfer, which took place just days before President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia for a summit of Gulf Arab allies, marked the latest step in his final push to close the controversial detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba before he leaves office in January 2017.

The Saudis agreed, after lengthy negotiations that at one point involved Obama and Saudi King Salman, to take the nine Yemenis for resettlement and put them through a government-run rehabilitation program that seeks to reintegrate militants into society, the officials said.

The group announced by the Pentagon was the largest shipped out of the Guantanamo Bay prison since Obama rolled out his plan in February aimed at shutting the facility. But he faces stiff opposition from many Republican lawmakers as well as some fellow Democrats.

There are now 80 prisoners at Guantanamo, most held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.

The most prominent of the transfers was Tariq Ba Odah, a 37-year-old Yemeni whom the military had been force-feeding daily since he went on a hunger strike in 2007. His legal team said he was down to 74 pounds, losing about half of his body weight.

Ba Odah’s lawyer, Omar Farah, said the U.S. government had “played Russian roulette” with his client’s life and that his transfer “ends one of the most appalling chapters in Guantanamo’s sordid history.”

His case was a source of legal wrangling between the U.S. Department of Justice and his lawyers, who had unsuccessfully sought his release on humanitarian and medical grounds, and also created divisions within the Obama administration.

 

TRANSFERS PRECEDE OBAMA’S VISIT

The transfers took place as Obama prepared to visit Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and Thursday for a summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council at a time when U.S.-Saudi relations have been strained by the nuclear deal with Iran, their Shi’ite regional rival, and what Riyadh sees as a weak U.S. response to Syria’s civil war.

The Saudis have also threatened to sell of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets should the U.S. Congress pass a bill that could hold the kingdom responsible for a role in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the New York Times reported.

A U.S. official said the transfer – the result of years of negotiations, including an Oval Office appeal by Obama to the visiting Saudi monarch in September and visits to the kingdom by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – was not orchestrated for Obama’s trip and the timing was a coincidence.

Republicans have expressed opposition to such transfers, voicing concern that more released Guantanamo prisoners will return to militant activities.

But the transfer was considered a breakthrough since Riyadh had long resisted taking any non-Saudi nationals from the prison.

All nine men have family ties in Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen. The Obama administration has ruled out sending Yemenis to their homeland because it is engulfed in civil war and has an active al Qaeda branch.

“The United States is grateful to the government of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Guantanamo prisoners were rounded up overseas when the United States became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The facility, opened by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to accusations of torture.

Obama’s plan for shuttering the facility calls for bringing the several dozen remaining prisoners to maximum-security prisons in the United States. U.S. law bars such transfers to the mainland but Obama has not ruled out using executive action to do so.

Ba Odah, who was captured by the Pakistani army along the Afghan border and was accused of receiving weapons training in order to fight with the Taliban, had been force-fed by nasal tube since he stopped taking solid food in protest at his detention. He was cleared for transfer in 2009.

Pentagon officials had said he was receiving proper care. But his case was seen, until a recent uptick in transfers, as evidence of the Pentagon resisting Obama’s efforts to close the detention center.

The other prisoners involved in the transfer were identified as: Umar Abdullah Al-Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh Nasir, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al-Raimi, Muhammed Abdullah Muhammed Al-Hamiri, Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman, Abd al Rahman Al-Qyati, Mansour Muhammed Ali Al-Qatta, and Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed Al-Sabri.

They were among a group of lower-level inmates, now numbering 26 and mostly Yemenis, who have been cleared for transfer by a U.S. government inter-agency task force. U.S. officials have said they expect to move out all members of that group by this summer.

Written by: Reuters

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MPs call for ‘national treasure’ to be sent abroad for safekeeping

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

The Presidential Palace (ARG) on Wednesday called for calm and for MPs in the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) to act and speak responsibly about national issues after they called for the country’s treasure, the Bactrian Hoard, to be sent abroad for safekeeping.

ARG tweeted that the “Wolesi Jirga Speaker’s remarks about the safety of the Bactrian Treasure and its transfer abroad were unfortunate.”

The collection of pieces, including gold items, numbers about 20,000 in total, and date back to the period covering the third century BC to the first century AD.

Unearthed in northern Afghanistan in 1978 from four archaeological sites, the treasure has been preserved for hundreds of years and hidden during times of war.

In line with this, ARG tweeted the Bactrian Hoard “is one of the greatests assets of the Afghan people, which has been preserved in the maze of history in which the country’s assets were looted.”

ARG also stated that government has protected this historical treasure in a responsible manner and has allowed it to be exhibited several times in countries around the world.

The exhibitions have been done in a way for the treasure to represent “the history and identity of Afghanistan, and significant revenues to the state treasury have been obtained through this,” said ARG.

The Presidential Palace’s reaction came on the heels of comments made by Rahman Rahmani, the Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, who called for the treasure to be sent out of the country and stored abroad for safekeeping.

Rahmani said the Central Bank, where the gold is currently housed, was unreliable, and he insisted on transferring the “hoard” to a more trustworthy country on loan.

In addition to this, some lawyers also called on government to examine the state of the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The issue was raised after SIGAR released a report recently stating that vast amounts of money is still being smuggled out of the country, especially out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul – and specifically through the VIP area.

“If money is smuggled, the Bactrian treasure will not be safe, and this treasure is to support Afghanistan’s money and must be transferred to another country because the Central Bank lacks credit, and this is a very serious matter,” Rahmani said.

Another MP, Nilofar Ibrahimi said: “Action must be taken to prevent the transfer of Bakhtar treasures, because the Central Bank’s cameras have been turned off for two months and we are concerned about the distrust of the current government and this treasure is in danger of being smuggled and should be transferred to a trustworthy country.”

The total collection is estimated to be worth around $13 billion. Over the past 13 years, the treasure has been exhibited in foreign countries, earning Afghanistan about 314 million Afghanis.

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Commitment to peace is all that’s keeping Republic’s team in Doha

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said Wednesday the level of violence meted out by the Taliban is so intense that government should have walked away from negotiations but instead a steadfast belief in peace on Afghanistan’s part has kept the negotiations on track in Doha, Qatar.

Speaking at an Afghan Women’s Network meeting, Abdullah said government’s determination at securing peace is the only reason the talks are still underway.

He also said the Taliban must stop calling for the release of more prisoners until they have changed their ways.

“As long as the violence continues at the same level, the negotiations should have been stopped, because the violence escalated and it escalated from the other side, unfortunately. Our commitment to peace is decisive and we will continue the process,” Abdullah said.

“There is hope for the people of Afghanistan; when we are close to peace, then the issue of prisoners won’t be a problem; it is certainly part of the agreements that are being reached,” Abdullah added.

Members of the peace negotiating team meanwhile said the Taliban is not ready for a ceasefire and everytime the topic turns to their request for an Islamic Emirate, the group’s members walk away from the negotiating table.

The Republic’s talks team members also said the Taliban team has not been interested in discussing the agenda for the last ten days.

“Whenever there is a discussion about the issues they raise, they shrug their shoulders and they have repeatedly run away from the negotiating table,” said Farooq Majrooh, a member of the Afghan Republic’s team.

“They want to be superior, to use war and terror as a means, and to have the upper hand in this matter,” said Habiba Surabi, another member of the negotiating team.

However, Afghan women have called for an immediate ceasefire and said that peace talks and violence cannot go hand-in-hand.

“Violence parallel with peace talks is illogical and we want a ceasefire,” said Roshan Sirran, head of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN).

“The more bloodshed there is, the greater the distance, the greater the animosity, and the greater the distance between the parties,” said Sima Samar, former Minister of Government for Human Rights.

The Taliban have in the past stated they will only discuss a ceasefire once a ruling system for Afghanistan has been determined.

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AIHRC reports sharp increase in assassinations last year

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2021)

Over 2,000 civilians were killed or wounded in targeted assassinations and attempted assassinations last year, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said.

According to a report released on Wednesday, this attack method mainly targets civilian government employees, journalists, members of civil society, religious scholars, influential and prominent figures, members of the National Assembly and human rights defenders.

The AIHRC said in the report that a total of 2,250 people were killed or injured in targeted assassination attacks and attempts – including 1,078 killed and 1,172 injured – last year.

“Unfortunately, civilian casualties from assassinations and targeted killings in 2020 have almost tripled to 169 percent compared to 2019,” the report stated.

In 2019, a total of 834 civilians were killed and injured as a result of the use of assassination methods and targeted attacks.

AIHRC stated that 65 women and 74 children were among the victims of this tactic who were killed, and 95 women and 290 children were among the wounded.

The watchdog noted in its report that suicide attacks had decreased by 23 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Despite this, the number of civilian casualties from suicide attacks remained very high, AIHRC said.

In 2020, civilian casualties from Taliban suicide attacks decreased by 44 percent compared to 2019.

In 2019, 1,195 civilians were killed in Taliban suicide attacks, killing 301 and wounding 894 while in 2020, that number dropped to 528 victims, including 65 killed and 463 injured.

In the civilian casualties caused by ISIS (Daesh Afghanistan) suicide attacks, in 2020, compared to 2019, there was a 33 percent increase.

In 2019, the total number of civilian casualties resulting from ISIL (Daesh Afghanistan) suicide attacks was 194 killed and wounded. In 2020, that number rose to 258 killed and injured.

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