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Guantanamo: US to transfer 19 detainees to four countries, including Saudi

US will transfer four Gitmo detainees to Saudi Arabia despite Donald Trump's warnings against releasing inmates
There are 59 prisoners remaining at the controversial detention centre (AFP)

The United States will transfer four detainees to Saudi Arabia from the Guantanamo prison in the next 24 hours, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, in President Barack Obama's final push to shrink the inmate population despite pressure from President-elect Donald Trump to halt such releases.

It will be the first in Obama's last flurry of transfers aimed at sending as many as 19 prisoners to at least four countries, including Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, before Trump is sworn in on 20 January.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest put Trump on notice that more inmates would be moved.

"I would expect, at this point, additional transfers," he said.

There are 59 prisoners remaining at the controversial detention centre, only a handful of whom have started moving through the military tribunals, including the alleged plotters of the 9/11 attacks.

Most of the others are in legal limbo. The US has deemed them too dangerous to release, but failed to acquire enough evidence for trial, making them indefinitely detained.

Earnest's comments come just hours after Trump said Guantanamo Bay should remain open.

Trump has vowed to "load [Guantanamo] up with some bad dudes" once he is in office.

When asked if Trump's position would impact Obama's thinking, "No, it will not," Earnest said. 

"He will have an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes is most effective when he takes office on January 20," he added.

Trump's declaration is the latest in a series of public disputes between Obama and the outspoken Republican president-elect, who has jettisoned the notion that there is "one president at a time".

Obama came to office vowing to shutter the facility, saying detention without trial did not reflect American values.

In mid-November, after Donald Trump was elected, Obama expressed regret that he had not been able to shut down the military detention centre during his eight years in office. He blamed the GOP-controlled Congress for his failure to "close the darn thing".

Obama has run up against political and legal hurdles, Pentagon foot-dragging and stubborn Republican opposition in Congress.

With Guantanamo's closure blocked, Obama's White House has focused on whittling down the number of inmates.

George W Bush released or transferred around 500 inmates before leaving office. Obama has released or transferred around 179.