U.S. sends 12 Guantanamo detainees to home countries
By Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters
December 22, 2009, 10:05 am TWN
WASHINGTON -- The United States has sent 12 inmates from the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Afghanistan, Yemen and an enclave in Somalia despite concerns about militant cells in those countries.
The U.S. Justice Department said on Sunday six Yemeni and four Afghan detainees were moved over the weekend to their home countries while two Somalis were transferred to regional authorities in Somaliland, a self-governing region of Somalia.
"These transfers were carried out under individual arrangements between the United States and relevant foreign authorities to ensure the transfers took place under appropriate security measures," the department said.
The transfers are the latest from the controversial prison that President Barack Obama has pledged to close, though his deadline for doing so, Jan. 22, will likely be missed because of diplomatic and political hurdles.
Representative Frank Wolf, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee for the Justice Department, criticized the decision to send prisoners back to Yemen or other countries where U.S. officials believe al Qaeda is active.
"It's a very bad decision by the Obama administration and by the Justice Department," Wolf said in an interview. "I think it endangers our national security and endangers our citizens."
With the latest transfers, there are 198 prisoners left at Guantanamo. Some of the remaining detainees will likely face trials in U.S. criminal or military courts while others are expected to be sent abroad or possibly be detained further.
The Guantanamo prison, opened in early 2002 to house terrorism suspects, has been condemned internationally because detainees were denied due process for years and for harsh interrogations conducted there.
Concerns Of Al-Qaida In Yemen
The transfer of the Yemeni men came after Yemen said last week that its security forces foiled a planned series of suicide bombings by attacking targets including an al-Qaida training center.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd defended the decision. "We would not have proceeded with the transfers if there were security-related concerns that were not adequately addressed," he said.
During the previous administration of George W. Bush, 14 Yemenis were sent home from Guantanamo.
There are still 91 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo and the Obama administration has faced significant difficulties finding other places to send them or repatriating them because of the concerns that al-Qaida cells have been operating in Yemen.