The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee is calling on the Obama administration to reinstate a ban on sending Guantanamo Bay detainees back to Yemen in the face of a worldwide terrorist threat emanating from that country, as well the Arabian Peninsula as a whole.
“Since it is well-known that Yemen-based al Qaeda is actively plotting against us, I don’t see how the president can honestly say any detainee should be transferred to Yemen,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told the Washington Examiner in a statement. “Sending them to countries where al Qaeda and its affiliates operate and continue to attack our interests is not a solution.”
Chambliss said U.S. intelligence agencies have estimated that the recidivism rate for detainees released from Guantanamo Bay is 28 percent — a figure proponents of closing the prison dispute – and that detainees are more at risk for returning to the battlefield if they are sent back to a country with a robust terrorism presence.
“No detainee should be transferred to any place unless we are absolutely confident he will be effectively monitored and cannot renew terrorist ties,” he said. “We know one former GTMO detainee was involved in the Benghazi attacks, and we cannot afford to take the risk with other detainees just to satisfy a political promise. To do so would be nothing short of an invitation for al Qaeda to continue to attack us.”
President Obama met last week with Yemeni President Rabby Mansour Hadi to discuss the possible release of Yemeni nationals detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison for more than a decade. Earlier this year, Obama lifted a ban on repatriating detainees to Yemen that was imposed after learning that a botched Christmas Day plot to blow up an airliner in 2009 was the work of a Nigerian militant with ties to Yemen.
But Obama’s decision to lift the ban took place before the State Department decided late last week to close a record number of embassies around the world after U.S. intelligence agencies picked up heavy terrorist chatter about a possible attack likely planned to take place in Yemen but broad enough to threaten the homeland or U.S. targets around the globe.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said only that the administration will continue to vet the security risk each detainee would pose before determining whether to repatriate.
“We continue to evaluate detainees from Yemen on a case-by-case basis, just as we do with all other countries,” Hayden said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Intelligence committee, has supported lifting the ban on returning detainees to Yemen even though she was instrumental in forcing the Obama administration to impose it after discovering the Christmas Day bomber’s ties to Yemen.
Feinstein's spokesman Brian Weiss said the senator didn't have a comment at this time on whether this week’s threat should prompt a return to a ban on allowing Yemeni detainees to be sent back to their home country.
Feinstein contacted Obama’s top national security adviser earlier this year asking if the U.S. could work with the new Yemeni president to develop “an appropriate framework” for the return of the detainees.
“Although [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] still has a strong presence in Yemen, I believe it would be prudent to re-visit the decision to halt transfers to Yemen and assess whether President Hadi’s government, with appropriate assistance, would be able to securely hold detainees in Sana’a,” she wrote at the time.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, supports giving Obama flexibility to decide which detainees to release. He also supports continuing U.S. efforts to work with Middle Eastern leaders on counter-terrorism issues.
“To counter the global threat of terrorism, we must work with our partners across the globe, especially in the Middle East,” Ruppersberger told the Examiner. “We also must support those nations looking to enhance democratic governance and regional stability.”