The United States will continue to repatriate Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, a country menaced by the Al-Qaeda terror network, despite the Christmas airliner attack, a White House official said Sunday.
President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Yemeni nationals not transferred to US soil for trial or detention would be sent home.
“We haven’t, you know, stopped the process as far as dealing with them,” Brennan told CNN, referring to the roughly 90 Yemeni detainees who remain at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Many of them are going to be prosecuted,” either in US civilian courts or in military tribunals, he added.
“Some of these individuals are going to be transferred back to Yemen at the right time and the right pace and in the right way.”
Seven Yemeni detainees have already been sent home by the Obama administration, including six in December. Several others were repatriated during George W. Bush’s administration.
Brennan’s statements fall in line with Obama’s pledge to shutter the “war on terror” detention center set up by his predecessor.
“Guantanamo has been used as a propaganda tool by Al-Qaeda and others,” Brennan stressed. “We need to close that facility, and we’re determined to do that.”
The botched jetliner attack by a man suspected of receiving Al-Qaeda training in Yeman has refocused attention on the policy.
And on Saturday, Obama for the first time accused Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Yemen-based cell of Osama bin Laden’s group, of targeting the Northwest plane carrying 290 people as it neared Detroit on Christmas Day.
The president said Washington was working closely with Yemen’s government to snuff out Al-Qaeda leaders and members there.
Brennan insisted the Christmas attack was a “unique incident” that “doesn’t change the situation on the ground in Yemen one bit.
“We know that Al-Qaeda is out there. We know we have to be mindful of that. And we know that we have to take our steps with those detainees in a manner that is not going to put our citizens at risk.”
Three US senators warned last week of a possible security disaster if Washington transferred detainees back to Yemen without guarantees from Sanaa that they will not return to the battlefield.
The senators — including Republican John McCain, defeated by Obama in the 2008 presidential election — said Said Ali al-Shihri, whom they described as “AQAP’s longstanding deputy,” was held in Guantanamo but released in 2007.
Brennan said Washington was “very pleased” with how Sanaa handled the first Yemeni national sent home from Guantanamo about eight weeks ago.
“We had close dialogue with the Yemeni government about the expectations we have as far as what they’re supposed to do when the detainees go back. Several detainees were put in custody immediately,” Brennan told Fox News Sunday.