Published December 30, 2009
The Obama administration is pushing back against calls to halt or delay closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in light of the failed Christmas Day terror attack, suggesting that shutting down the prison will undermine terrorist recruitment in the very network that claimed responsibility for last week's plot.
Administration officials also assured lawmakers that they will use the utmost caution in transferring any detainees to other countries, following concerns that it's unsafe to send the dozens of Yemenis held there back to their home country -- which has emerged as a tinderbox of extremist activity.
Seniors officials told Fox News that nobody in the administration is reconsidering President Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay. Though the closure probably will not occur until 2011 due to a series of setbacks, officials said locking down Guantanamo is still in the "national security interest."
"The detention facility at Guantanamo has been used by Al Qaeda as a rallying cry and recruiting tool -- including its affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As our military leaders have recognized, closing the detention facility at Guantanamo is a national security imperative," one senior official told Fox News.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight last week. Sources say suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent time in Yemen and may have been groomed for the mission there.
These developments, combined with Yemen's abysmal record on keeping terror suspects in prison, have led some lawmakers to urge Obama to rethink his Guantanamo plans or at least stop transferring prisoners to Yemen or other Arabian Peninsula countries.
"Given the security situation in Yemen and the failure of the Yemeni government to secure high-value prisoners in the past, we believe that any such transfers would be highly unwise and ill-considered," Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote in a letter to the president Tuesday. "The December 25 attack is only the latest in a growing list of terrorist plots that have been traced back to AQAP in Yemen."
The administration recently ordered six Guantanamo detainees sent back to Yemen. This raises concerns, since Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is led by two former Guantanamo detainees who reportedly were released to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo in 2007 and were set free after completing a controversial "rehabilitation program."
All the suspects convicted of being involved in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole have also either been released by Yemeni authorities or managed to escape in a jailbreak.
But a senior administration official said Tuesday that it continues to review each prisoner's case with a "fine-tooth comb."
"Our policy is, as consistent with the law, that we'll make transfers, we'll notify Congress of the transfers, that we'll make transfers consistent with our national security interests. And we believe that each of those that we have done so far enhances our national security," the official said.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.