US halts Guantanamo transfers

Human rights groups have criticized U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to halt the transfer of detainees to Yemen from the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Obama suspended the repatriation of Yemeni detainees Tuesday because of what he called an “unsettled” security situation in Yemen. “It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected,” Obama said.

Some lawmakers had expressed concern that freed inmates could join Yemen-based al-Qaida militants plotting attacks on the United States. The Times has also reported claims that former detainees have joined al-Qaida on returning to Yemen.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claimed U.S. authorities had cleared the release of about 35 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo. Ben Wizner, ACLU staff attorney, said that “the decision to halt all transfers of detainees to Yemen will prolong a shameful chapter in American history without making Americans any safer.” He called the actions “unwise and unjust”.

Human Rights Watch says it appreciates that Yemen poses a “very difficult problem” for the Obama administration. But, it says continuing to hold Yemenis at Guantanamo without charge “only increases resentment against the United States and hands al-Qaida a recruiting tool.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights called the decision “unconscionable”. “We know from the military’s own records that most of the detainees at Guantanamo have no link to terrorism,” the group said.

Mitch McConnell, Republican Party minority leader in the U.S. Senate, backed the move. “Given the determined nature of the threat from al-Qaeda, it made little sense to transfer detainees from the secure facility at Guantanamo back to Yemen, where previously transferred detainees have escaped from prison and returned to al-Qaeda,” he said.

President Obama reiterated his pledge to shut down the Guantanamo prison, saying its existence helps al-Qaida to recruit members and damages U.S. national security interests. Obama had said one year ago that he wanted to close the prison by 22 January this year, but recently admitted that this target would not be met. Guantanamo currently holds 198 prisoners, about half of them from Yemen.

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