I missed this one, being busy with holiday cheer, but it didn’t get past Josh Gerstein at Politico. Five days before the EunuchBomber boarded Northwest 253 on Christmas Day, the Obama administration declared that they would go full speed ahead towards repatriating the rest of the Yemenis at Gitmo back home, according to the New York Times:
“The senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive security matters, said the government was gaining confidence in Yemen’s willingness to handle returning detainees after months of ‘intense’ talks under the Obama administration, as well as counterterrorism assistance from the United States that dates back to the Bush years….[Sr. Official:] ‘That has given us greater confidence that the Yemeni government and president would deal with this issue very seriously.
On the twelfth day of Abdulmutallab Christmas, the Times reported — on New Year’s Day, while everyone busied themselves with football games and hangover remedies — that the White House suddenly felt a lot less sanguine about the process:
“A senior administration official said Thursday that Mr. Obama’s interagency team had already decided quietly several weeks ago that the security situation in Yemen was too volatile to transfer any more detainees beyond six who were sent home in December. The government concluded it had to release those six because it was about to lose habeas corpus hearings in court that would order them freed.
As for the rest, ‘we all agreed we couldn’t send people back because of the security situation,’ said the official, who like others requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The administration will re-examine the question in late 2010, when an Illinois prison is ready to take remaining Guantánamo detainees, the official said.”
Hmmm. Is “quietly” a euphemism for “despite telling us more or less the opposite ten days ago”?
The administration’s claim that it had, before the Christmas Day bombing attempt, put a halt to Yemen repatriations is also curious since the Washington Post suggested on its front page back on December 18 that the release of the six was a “prelude” to further releases. Shouldn’t the White House have leapt up and said, “Actually, no, it isn’t?”
And when various members of Congress said we shouldn’t send any more detainees to Yemen in the foreseeable future (see here, here, here and here), shouldn’t the White House have leapt up and said, “We agree. Never planned to”?
At least the White House has finally come to the correct conclusion, albeit tardy indeed. However, the subsequent admissions of intel connected to Abdulmutallab’s near-miss makes one wonder why it took the failed attack to reach it. American intel heard plenty of chatter about Yemeni efforts to conduct terrorist attacks on the US; they just didn’t get specific enough to pinpoint the actual attack. Just a a few days before Christmas, Barack Obama gave the green light to a mission assisting Yemen in conducting airstrikes on AQ targets. That decision didn’t come because Yemen is secure against terrorists, or because Yemen wasn’t a big threat.
It seems that everyone knew that Yemen has a big, big problem with al-Qaeda, but for some reason, Obama thought dumping almost a hundred hardened terrorists into Yemen would … what? Improve the situation? Make the Yemeni AQ networks suddenly love America? The question isn’t so much the reversal — which is just common sense after the attack and its pedigree became known — but why anyone thought releasing the 95 Yemeni detainees in Gitmo back into a near-failed state was a laudatory goal at all.
Gerstein’s catch points out something else interesting about the Obama administration’s approach to this, too. Obama ran on rhetoric that promised the most open and transparent administration in history. Yet here Obama is, leaking the status of the Yemeni detainees not once but twice in two weeks rather than openly discussing their release and then reversing the decision with explanations of both decisions open and public. It seems that Obama does not have the courage of his promises of openness, or even the courage to leak these decisions on days when people read newspapers and watch TV. The administration leaves it to Gerstein to catch the changes and broadcast them, a decision that makes Obama look small and weak.