Published December 28, 2009
The Obama administration is under pressure to consider transferring the dozens of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay somewhere other than their home country, given Yemen's poor record of keeping terror suspects in prison and the country's growing prominence as a staging ground for attacks.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the attempted attack on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas. Sources said the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, traveled to Yemen before the attempt and may have been "vetted for the mission" and supplied with explosive material while there.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration needs to decide what to do with the remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay, nearly half of whom are from Yemen. Despite concerns, the administration just sent six detainees back to Yemen last week.
But one alternative to Yemen might be next-door Saudi Arabia, which Al Qaeda increasingly is threatening.
Robert Jordan, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the Middle Eastern nation would have a natural "self-interest" in working with the United States on the issue and called the country a reliable partner.
"The Saudis have a pretty good system of sorting out who's who. It's not perfect, but it's going to be a lot more effective than allowing the Yemenis to do what they've done in the past, which is to cast a blind eye at the effectiveness of detention," Jordan said.
"I don't think there's anybody we're going to send back to Yemen who's going to stay in jail -- no one has," said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.
All the suspects convicted of being involved in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole have either been released by Yemeni authorities or managed to escape in a 2008 jailbreak. Some of the detainees sent back during the Bush administration are now leading Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Some Republicans still feel the president should delay , if not change, his decision to close Guantanamo Bay.
"We have about 90 Yemenis left in Gitmo," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich. "They should stay there. They should not go back to Yemen."
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court steadily has chipped away at the Bush administration's attempts to deny the detainees legal rights. At some point, the court may rule that detainees must face trial, prompting warnings that the suspects might just end up in the United States.
"The question will be, you've got to let them go and you can't send them to another country, so what are you going to do? You let them go inside the U.S. -- this would be crazy, but that is what the default is under the law," Baker said.
The Obama administration has determined that a prison in Thomson, Ill., will serve as the next holding pen for Guantanamo detainees, though it's not clear when that facility will be upgraded to support the terror suspects.
In the meantime, lawmakers say, the United States must work to prevent Yemen, which is the poorest Arab country and has one of the weakest governments in the Middle East, from becoming the next battleground.
"Iraq was yesterday's war. Afghanistan is today's war. If we don't act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow's war. That's the danger we face," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said on "Fox News Sunday."
Fox News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.