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Yemeni president's White House talks on Guantanamo release fail
Hadi sought repatriation of Yemeni prisoners; Obama praises his efforts to drive al-Qaeda elements out of their territories

SANA'A - Despite attempts by officials to accent the positive aspects of his Washington visit last week, Yemeni President Abd Raabuh Mansur Hadi's White House meeting with President Barack Obama failed to reach a breakthrough on one of his most pressing issues, the repatriation of prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison who are Yemeni nationals.

 

The fate of the Yemeni, who now make up more than half of the remaining 166 prisoners being held at Gitmo, was on top of Hadi's agenda for his meeting with the president. Hadi told the American administration that Yemen is now capable and eligible to receive its imprisoned nationals, but the meeting failed to produce an agreement.

 

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Nevertheless, Hadi did not leave the Oval Office empty handed. The United States agreed to honor a previous commitment to provide Yemen with a military aid package that includes 12 aircraft equipped with night vision capabilities and radioactive monitoring sensors; 100 military vehicles; and a high-tech integrated communication system to aid Yemeni border guards tasked with the prevention and interdiction of smuggling activities.

 

President Obama praised Hadi's leadership, saying his efforts have helped drive al-Qaeda elements out of their territories and pledged to help address Yemen's "significant economic challenges."

 

President Hadi succeeded Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted after more than thirty years of rule. Since his tenure began, the US security echelon has partnered with the Yemeni military in trying to eradicate the terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by American officials to be arguably the most potent of the international terrorist organization’s global franchises. Several AQAP leaders have recently been killed by missiles fired from American-operated drones.

 

Stressing the importance of the Hadi trip to the United States, Dr. Fares Al-Saqqaf, Hadi's advisor on strategic issues, told The Media Line that, “This visit comes at a critical time as Yemen goes through the final stages of its two-year transitional period, by the end of which an election will be held and a new constitution will be drafted. It came at a time when the country is facing economic challenges and the delegates at the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) are approaching the end of their discussions."

 

Yemeni soldiers in Sana'a (Photo: EPA) (Photo: EPA)
Yemeni soldiers in Sana'a (Photo: EPA)

 

The NDC is a body of 565 Yemeni citizens representing a cross-section of society who are tasked with drafting a new constitution and revised system of government. Among its issues are good governance and corruption. Its work is set to conclude in September.

 

Political analyst and chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center, Abdusalam Mohammed, agreed with Al-Saqqaf, adding that, “The political and security challenges facing Yemen in addition to the fact that Yemen is scheduled to have a presidential election early next year -- something which may need to be postponed -- necessitated this visit and made it so important.”

 

The situation of those incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, however, is the issue of greatest concern to the prisoners’ families and spurred on by human rights organizations, is considered a major public issue. Families and activists who joined together to demonstrate outside Hadi’s Sana’a residence simultaneous to the president’s meeting at the White House were disappointed to learn that there was no specific time set for the prisoners to be released.

 

Instead, Presidents Obama and Hadi agreed only to work together “to facilitate the repatriation of Yemeni detainees who have been designated for transfer” and continue consultations on the matter, according to a statement issued by the White House after the meeting.

 

Although many Guantanamo prisoners have already been turned-over to their respective country’s, but 56 Yemeni nationals designated for transfer remain in the infamous facility due to a US-imposed moratorium on the release of any Yemeni prisoners after a failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane on Christmas, 2009, which was traced back to AQAP.

 

In May, President Obama said he would allow the repatriation of the Yemeni prisoners, but his decision was blocked by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where many lawmakers say they fear those released would quickly join forces with AQAP in part because Yemen, the poorest Arab state, does not have extremist rehabilitation centers. Earlier this year, Yemen announced plans to establish such a center in a move to meet Congress’s conditions for releasing the prisoners.

 

"Washington is not serious about releasing Yemeni detainees," said Abdulrahman Baraman, a human rights activist and lawyer for some of the detainees' families. “It's only trying to make excuses in order not to repatriate the Yemeni detainees…Every time Obama pledges to hand them over, he reneges and finds new grounds for not making good on his pledge. We are afraid that our fellow Yemenis imprisoned unfairly at Guantanamo are victimized by the partisan bickering between the Republicans and Democrats." Twice, the Republicans have prevented the ban from being lifted.

 

Presidential adviser Al-Saqqaf was more upbeat, saying that the American side understandably seeks to ensure that necessary arrangements such as a rehab center are already in place before it starts repatriating prisoners. He considered the visit as the first executive step towards releasing Yemen’s detainees.

 

Mohammed agreed with Al-Saqqaf, saying that, “Washington's position on repatriating the Yemeni detainees was expected. There are fears in light of the government's weakness at the transitional stage. With international community backing, the government can set up a mechanism to establish a rehabilitation program for the detainees in order to reassure Washington and persuade it to repatriate the Yemeni detainees. But that necessitates achieving some security and stability on the ground,” Mohammed told The Media Line.

 

Baraman, however, appeared pessimistic and argued that even after establishing the rehab center, which he said would take about three months to accomplish, he still doubted the US would release the detainees.

 

Article by Abdulrahman Shamlan

 

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line

 

 

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