The detention center at Guantanamo Bay holds 97 Yemenis captured either on battlefields or by intelligence operatives in the war on terror. Yemen has an active al-Qaeda network, and is in many ways its primary base. The network largely originated, at least philosophically, in the conflict between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in a border dispute, and the bitterness has fueled this particular brand of Islamic extremism for decades. Americans got a reminder of this in the Fort Hood shooting, in which Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 14 people and wounded dozens more after being in contact with a radical imam in Yemen who recruits for al-Qaeda — and who Yemen seems incapable of handling.
One might think that with that background, the US would be loath to trust Yemen with any of the detainees. That, however, would seriously underestimate the Obama administration’s desperation to close Gitmo:
The Obama administration is planning to repatriate six Yemenis held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a transfer that could be a prelude to the release of dozens more detainees to Yemen, according to sources with independent knowledge of the matter.
The release is a significant first step toward dealing with the largest group of detainees at the prison — there are currently 97 Yemenis there — and toward meeting President Obama’s goal of closing the facility.
But Yemen’s security problems and lack of resources have spawned fears about its ability to monitor and rehabilitate returnees. Critics of the administration charge that returning detainees to Yemen, a country where al-Qaeda is believed to be thriving, is tantamount to returning terrorists to the battlefield. …
The transfer will be closely monitored and, if successful, could lead to the release of other Yemenis who have been cleared to go home by a Justice Department-led interagency review team, which examined the case of each detainee held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama set up the review process to accelerate the closure of the detention center.
The attorney for the Yemenis calls this a “breakthrough.” It sounds more like a breakout. The Post describes the country to which we’ll be sending dozens of Islamist radicals:
Yemen’s government has been struggling with a civil war in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and humanitarian crises as the economy crumbles. In this void, al-Qaeda has steadily grown, using the nation’s vast lawless, rugged terrain as a haven. U.S. officials are concerned that al-Qaeda could use Yemen, strategically located in the heart of one of the world’s lucrative oil and shipping zones, as a launching pad for attacks against neighboring Saudi Arabia and in the Horn of Africa.
The Bush administration sent 14 Yemenis back to its jihadi rehab program (Obama has sent one so far), but as the Christian Science Monitor reported almost a year ago, it’s not been very successful:
Yemen also has a rehab program for jihadis, but it has been much less aggressive and successful than its Saudi counterpart, which has been widely praised. This is another problem in closing Guantánamo because the largest group of remaining 245 inmates are Yemenis.
Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Saturday that his government had rejected a suggestion by the Bush administration to release the 94 Yemeni detainees into the Saudi rehabilitation program, wire services reported. He added that they all would be home within three months, and placed in Yemen’s rehab effort.
A Pentagon spokesman said on Jan. 13 that of the 520 detainees released from the controversial military camp in Cuba, 18 had “returned to the fight” and another 43 are under suspicion of being involved in extremist activities. He declined to name them.
And bear in mind that the 520 released at that point were those supposedly not incorrigible — and we still managed to have dozens return to terrorist operations. Now we’re going to send 97 Yemenis back to a country that is falling apart and can’t manage the radical terrorists they already have.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) says it best:
“Stop. These men are dangerous,” Wolf said when asked about the transfer. “I believe they will be involved in terrorism that will cost American lives.”
Their example certainly won’t deter it. We held them for a few years, and then dumped them right back into the arms of their comrades, fed, rested, and ready to take another shot at Americans. Remind me again how closing Gitmo makes America safer.