I think McClatchy gets this right — if there’s going to be an immediate consequence of the underpants bomber, it will be to effectively shut down the emptying of Guantanamo, particularly of the 80 or so remaining prisoners who are Yemeni nationals. They haven’t done anything newly wrong or been convicted — or even charged — with any crime, but they are now caught up in the politics of the moment, making their release seemingly impossible.
Nearly half of the 198 captives at Guantánamo are citizens of Yemen — also the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden — just south of Saudi Arabia.
“This is just disastrous for the Yemenis at Guantánamo,” said Washington, D.C. attorney David Remes, who over the years has defended 17 Yemeni detainees , some now slated for release.
Remes said an Obama administration task force has cleared for release “as many as 40 Yemenis” declared unfairly held or no longer threats, but that “the politics of the situation may make it impossible for the administration to send any Yemenis back to Yemen in the foreseeable future.”
You can already see the political implications of this in the fact that John McCain and his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, asked the President to stop the transfer of six Yemeni detainees who were already sent home a week ago. The McCain press aide’s response to her boss’ lack of knowledge is priceless:
The hitch: The six detainees were sent back to Yemen more than a week ago, according to a December 20 press release from the Justice Department.
A Justice Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, confirmed that the detainees had, in fact, been repatriated.
A spokeswoman for McCain, Brooke Buchanan, confirmed that the letter referred to the same six Yemenis, and said the gap in the senators’ knowledge raised questions about the administration’s communications with Congress.
Now that’s chutzpah.
I guess the Justice Department press release and coverage of the Yemeni release in every major newspaper isn’t enough for St. McCain, who needs personal communiques every time the government acts. I’m also personally upset that McCain doesn’t read FDL News.
Just in case you want a saner take on this, read the excerpt below from a Senior Administration Official. Unfortunately, a rare outbreak of sanity like this is not expected to hold – the same fear that could lead to unwise policy changes, restrictions and military action in Yemen are also likely to lead to innocent Yemenis continuing their stay in Gitmo.
Q — story that six Yemenis were returned just last week from Guantanamo Bay to Yemen. Is there enough faith in the Yemeni government to not — those guys won’t join back with al Qaeda?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, we’ve been obviously working this through very aggressively. We’re making decisions based on a range of intelligence that we have and we’re obviously dealing with a situation that we’ve inherited as it relates to our ability to hold certain individuals. But we’re confident that any transfers that we’re making are being made not only consistent with our national security interests but also consistent with what we consider to be a fundamental national security interest in closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
I think that some of us were struck by the fact when al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula itself was formed it was the conglomeration of two separate al Qaeda affiliates — when it was formed, one of the recruiting and motivational tools that it used in its initial announcement to generate sympathy for its cause as well as recruits was the facility at Guantanamo Bay.
So we continue to feel that this is in our national security interest to close. We feel that the way we’re closing it is advancing our national security interest goals, and that will continue to be the case.
Q Just to follow on that, you make this — everybody is going to get reviewed and Yemen’s ability to handle the transfer of a Gitmo — of a Yemeni Gitmo detainee will be taken into account before —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s exactly what the law says at the moment; that’s exactly what the President made clear in the announcement of the review of each case last January; and that’s what, frankly, we’ve done with experienced intelligence and prosecutorial professionals over the course of this year –going through each of these cases with a fine-tooth comb.
Q There have been calls for — McCain, Lieberman and Graham issued a joint statement, wrote a letter to the President saying — called on any Yemeni nationals, transfers from Gitmo — that’s sort of a moot point because you wouldn’t be releasing them if you thought they were going to become terrorists. Is that — is that the way you responded, is that fair —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll just say what our policy is. I haven’t had the opportunity to catch up with that letter, but our policy is, as consistent with the law, that we’ll make transfers; we’ll notify Congress of the transfers; that we’ll make transfers consistent with our national security interests. And we believe that each of those that we have done so far enhances our national security.
I am aware of a lot of people pointing back at the way the transfers were handled under the Bush administration, that apparently they have some concerns about that. I didn’t hear many of those concerns at the time, but there were obviously hundreds and hundreds of detainees that were transferred under the old regime.
We are, as I suggested, going through this with a fine-tooth comb. But I also just hasten to add the bigger picture here which is that we believe closing Gitmo is in the national security interest of the country for the reasons I’ve just outlined.