The Obama administration removed the ban on sending Guantanamo detainees to Yemen two years ago, but officials now say they’ve changed their minds after a recent uprising by Iranian-backed terrorists in Yemen has renewed security concerns.
While the administration will act as though the ban is in place, they will not officially bring it back into play, preferring to leave the option open as a matter of flexibility, The Associated Press reports.
“Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half,” President Obama said at the State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Now it’s time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It’s not who we are.”
Although Obama doesn’t intend to relent on shuttering Guantanamo, where he sends the prisoners is entirely up in the air, and the administration’s recent move comes at a time when Sen. Kelly Ayotte is aggressively pushing a bill to ban all transfers to Yemen for at least two years. (RELATED: Shut It Down! GOP To Close Door On Obama’s Plan To Empty Gitmo)
The ban on transfers was first established in 2010, right after a Nigerian man, under the guidance of al-Qaida from Yemen, attempted to bring down a U.S. flight on Christmas day with explosives he had hidden in his underwear. Several years later at a National Defense University speech in May 2013, Obama removed the ban on detainee transfers to Yemen after securing President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s agreement to build a rehabilitation center for the former terrorists. No such center exists.
Out of 54 detainees approved for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay, 47 are from Yemen. Near the end of December, three other Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo were sent to Kazakhstan. Just last week, four Yemeni nationals were sent to Oman, which is a country located adjacent to Yemen, and only one was shipped to Estonia. (RELATED: Pentagon Releases Five More Terrorists From Guantanamo)
As of Wednesday, two U.S. warships have moved into position in the Red Sea and are ready to take action, according to Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren. Although he declined to reveal the total number of Americans living in Yemen, Warren emphasized that there’s enough firepower on hand to take care of any contingency and evacuate any Americans present, should the need arise.
“The unrest in Yemen is a concern overall,” Warren stated. The United States is supporting Hadi against the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite terrorist organization that seized the official presidential palace in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Tuesday, and al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for the recent attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in France.
However, the BBC reports that on Thursday the situation in Yemen took a turn for the worse. Both the government and president resigned after rebels broke a ceasefire agreement and shelled the president’s home. Apparently the rebels weren’t satisfied with the arrangement they obtained only a few hours before the shelling took place, which stated that the rebels would be granted increased political representation.
“While our policy preference is to repatriate detainees where we can do so consistent with our national security and humane treatment policies, we recognize that under certain circumstances the most viable transfer option is resettlement in a third country,” Ian Moss, a State Department employee who focuses on detainee transfers, told The AP. “We are actively working to identify appropriate transfer locations for every single detainee approved for transfer and it may be the case that resettlement in a third country is the best option.”
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff from California agreed and urged the U.S. and its allies to do “whatever possible to ensure that Yemen does not disintegrate and that the vital counterterrorism mission that we have with Yemen continues.”
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