Airline attack could delay release of Yemenis at Guantánamo
Yemenis are the largest group of Guantánamo detainees. But key senators want to halt further transfers to Yemen in light of the Chistmas airline attack, which has been linked to Al Qaeda operatives there.
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Of the 198 detainees remaining at Guantánamo, 89 are Yemeni nationals. They are, by far, the largest contingent from any country.
After months of US-Yemen negotiations, six Yemeni detainees were sent home two weeks ago. The move boosted expectations by remaining detainees and their lawyers that others would soon follow.
But that was before news broke that alleged Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab obtained his explosive material and terror training from a Yemen-based group called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Now key senators are calling for a freeze on further Guantánamo transfers to Yemen.
“The current conditions and threat of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] activities are clear evidence of the danger in repatriating these Yemeni detainees at this time,” wrote Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, and Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut in a recent letter to President Obama.
Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has issued her own call for a halt to transfers. “Guantánamo detainees should not be released at this time,” she said in a statement. “It is too unstable.”
President Obama has already abandoned his pledge to close Guantánamo by January 22. No new deadline has been set, but efforts are well underway to repatriate as many detainees as possible in advance of moving an estimated 100 remaining prisoners to US-based facilities to stand trial or face indefinite detention at a prison in rural Illinois.
“I am heartened by statements coming out of the administration that they are going to keep on track,” said David Remes, legal director of the Washington-based group Appeal for Justice which represents 15 Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. Two of his clients returned home to Yemen on Dec. 19.