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Will Gitmo Detainees Be Returned To Yemen?

We’re over a week away from the failed Christmas Day bombing attack, and White House officials are still vowing to continue the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, including returning some to Yemen, where the most recent threat reportedly originated.

The United States still intends to send some Yemeni detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility back to Yemen despite a terrorist threat there, President Barack Obama’s terrorism czar said Sunday.

John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counter-terrorism, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the failed Christmas Day terror attack on a U.S. airliner doesn’t change the plan to close the Guantanamo facility […]

Brennan called the failed attack on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan a “unique incident” that won’t affect the process of closing the Guantanamo facility.

“We are making sure that we don’t do anything that’s going to put Americans at risk,” Brennan said.

While I am surprised Brennan and others are still talking this boldly about returning detainees to Yemen, the rest of Washington is sufficiently spooked to make me still believe it won’t happen. Not only are Republicans and Connecticut for Lieberman’s arguing against it, with Holy Joe saying on ABC yesterday that “It would be irresponsible to take any of the Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo and send them back to Yemen,” but Democrats have also advised against the move. Here’s Jane Harman from yesterday:

“I believe the prison should close, but I also believe we should review again where we’re going to send the detainees,” Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said, referencing her hope that Gitmo detainees could be transferred to domestic prisons. “I think it is a bad time to send the 90 or so Yemenis back to Yemen.”

Harman joins Dianne Feinstein and others who have doubted the wisdom of return detainees to Yemen.

It’s worth noting that we’re not talking about returning terrorists to the Arabian peninsula. The Obama Administration has been diligent – perhaps overly so – in ensuring anyone it releases is completely innocent of charges and represents no material threat to the United States. The former Gitmo detainees who are part of Al Qaeda in Yemen, to the extent that there are any (that Brian Ross report isn’t necessarily iron-clad proof), were returned by the Bush Administration, and let’s just say that I don’t presume any diligence at all on their part.

Still, the political freak-out over this will certainly frustrate efforts to close Guantanamo, unless the President can filter out the noise from the political class. I’d be pleased if he did, but I’m not expecting it.

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David Dayen

David Dayen