government’s efforts to send home more than 80 Yemeni prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay.
Since Yemenis represent almost half of the roughly 200 remaining prisoners at Gitmo, new hurdles to their resettlement could spell more trouble for President Barack Obama’s plan to close the island prison while transferring a limited number of detainees to a prison in the U.S. Six Yemeni nationals were returned home earlier this month, and officials hoped more transfers would follow.
The relatively weak central government has been working, with U.S. military and diplomatic support, to counter two separate insurgencies, and the nation, Osama Bin Laden’s ancestral home, has become a haven for some members of Al Qaeda. That instability has contributed to concerns within the Obama administration and from its domestic critics about returning prisoners there for repatriation.
The Nigerian man charged with the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, reportedly spent time in Yemen after graduating from a London university in 2008. According to ABC News, Abdulmutallab has told authorities that, while in Yemen, Al Qaeda operatives crafted the explosive device which was sewn into Abdulmutallab’s underwear.
“Yesterday just highlights the fact that sending this many people back—or any people back—to Yemen right now is a really bad idea,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s just dumb….If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.”
“I think it’s a major mistake,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said about prisoner releases to Yemen. “I don’t think Guantanamo should be closed, but if we’re going to close it I don’t believe we should be sending people to Yemen where prisoners have managed to escape in the past….Obviously, if [Abdulmutallab] did get training and direction from Yemen, it just adds to what is already a dangerous situation.”
While Republicans have long been outspoken against plans to send more Guantanamo prisoners to Yemen, the Northwest Airlines incident seems to have persuaded at least one key Democrat that those plans should be reconsidered.
“In terms of sending more of them to return to Yemen, it would be a bit of a reach,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told POLITICO on Saturday. “I’d, at a minimum, say that whatever we were about to do we’d at least have to scrub it again from top to bottom.”
Thompson, who said he plans to convene hearings in January about the bombing attempt, said the reported Yemen links to the incident could even lead some members to question whether Yemenis at Guantanamo should be transferred to the new terror prison the administration wants to set up in Thomson, Ill. “It’s something that’s going to be of interest to everybody…We ought to look at everything we have underway to make sure that something hasn’t been overlooked,” the congressman said.
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