A hot topic, Guantanamo Bay terror detainees’ repatriation has acted a centrepiece to many conversations and many debates both in Yemen and abroad as rights activists, lawyers and politicians have argued back and fro, weighting national security parameters versus civil liberties.
But if Gitmo become somewhere along the way the crusade to be had for rights activists, for dozens of Yemeni families, America’s terror penitentiary has come to incarnate injustice and sorrow.
As officials continue to debate Yemen detainees’ fate, families back desperately cling on to hope, wanting to believe that after years of waiting they will eventually be reunited with their loved ones.
Yemen long battle against Gitmo started back in 2008 when Mark Falkoff of the Centre for Constitutional Rights issued a call for the repatriation of the Yemeni detainees on the basis that the US had either failed to show proof of their alleged involvement in terror activities or already established they were innocent of all terror charges.
Of the 166 detainees who remain held without charge in Guantanamo Bay, 91 are Yemeni and 56 have already been cleared for transfer; yet they remain put, blocked in a lengthy political process as US President Barack Obama assesses the eventual political fallout repatriation will entail. It is important to note that all Yemeni nationals have languished in prison for over a decade even though a court of law gave them the all clear.
Although Yemen scored a major victory back in 2013 when following much pressure US President Obama conceded a lift on his moratorium on Yemeni transfers, thus signalling a change in policy, nothing yet on the ground has happened.
If Washington no longer opposes per se Yemen’s detainees’ repatriation, Yemen has yet to build a facility which will enable inmates to be rehabilitated back into mainstream society.
Since May 2012, when US President Obama publicly pledged to close down Guantanamo, 11 detainees have been transferred back to their country of origin while Yemenis are stuck in limbo.
Gitmo’s Yemen repatriation program first ended in 2010, when the US listed Yemen’s al-Qaeda cell as the most dangerous and potent branch of the group, thus calling for extra security measures. In September 2013, a national intelligence report on the reengagement of former Guantanamo prisoners shows that “out of a total of 603 detainees released, 100 or 16% have returned to terrorist or insurgent activities and another 14 to 12% are believed to have done so.”
Hence Washington’s determination to set up a structure capable of handling detainees’ post repatriation need, in terms of re-education and re-integration back to civilian life.
Morris Davis said back in 2013, “If you sent the cleared detainees home, somebody in that group is going to do something stupid at some point in the future, and the president hasn’t been willing to have his name on that happening.” Morris Davis is an Air Force officer and lawyer. He was appointed to serve as the third Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions from 2005 to 2007.
But rehabilitation takes money, money which Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula does not have. Exhausted by three years of instability and political upheaval, Yemen does not have the required resources or the required expertise to possibly care for its returnees.
In October 2013, Yemen Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi confirmed that Yemen planned “to construct a facility for the rehabilitation of the Yemeni detainees the US has agreed to release from the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.” He stressed the “rehabilitation facility will focus on a religious and cultural dialogue and job creation.
Yemen Human Rights Minister Hooria Mahsour, who has worked with the families of the detainees, confirmed in 2013 that Yemen would have to raise an estimated $20 million to build and run the centre; funds she said the US already spend for the keep of Yemen prisoners in Guantanamo. She told reporters, “"The (financial) support that the United States would offer to Yemen in this regard will not be more than what it is (currently) spending to maintain Guantanamo prison.”
Since then months have passed and Yemen terror inmates have yet to exercise their most basic and inherent human rights, awaiting the freedom they should not have lost in the first place.