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Bombs Sent from Yemen Raise Question about Guantánamo Detainees

As far back as May 2009, President Obama and the CIA were trying to coordinate with the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia to plan the eventual release of Yemeni citizens detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.  At that time, 97 Yemenis, including 26 cleared for release, represented the largest group of the 240 detainees in US custody at that time in the detention facility.  In June of 2009, there were reports of talks between the US and Saudi governments about repatriating Yemeni detainees in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis had what was considered a very successful reintegration and de-radicalization program for former Guantánamo detainees.  This is contrasted with the Yemeni government, which lacks the strong, central power of Saudi Arabia.  Additionally, there is a growing al Qaeda presence in Yemen, and occasional insurgent skirmishes on the border of Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

There have been occasional detainees repatriated to Yemen, but the majority have been sent to Saudi Arabia.  One the Yemeni released to Saudi Arabia was Said Shihri, who is currently the second-in-command of al Qaeda in Yemen.  Shihri was captured by the US in Afghanistan in 2001, and released to Saudi Arabia in 2007.  In 2009, he was featured in a video speaking of the union of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the terrorist group.  Another Yemeni released to Saudi custody was Uthman Ghamdi, who is an aid to Anwar Awlaki, a cleric born in the US who has become a spokesman for al Qaeda in Yemen.

After the attempted Christmas bombing last year, President Obama suspended transfers of prisoners from Guantánamo to Yemen, after learning he had received training in Yemen.  It was also announced that there would be no more transfers to the Saudi rehabilitation program, after a Pentagon report estimated that one-fifth of detainees released from Guantánamo had taken up extremest activities.

It is not clear what the impact the latest bombing attempt, which originated in Yemen and bears all the hallmarks of an al Qaeda operation.   It is not clear yet what, if any, impact these most recent threats from Yemen will have on the Administration’s plans to close the detention facility, but it will most likely have some effect upon decisions made about the remaining Yemeni detainees held in Guantánamo.

Read more at LA Times.

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