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Political Notebook

Some Democrats want Yemeni transfers halted

Associated Press / January 4, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Some Democratic lawmakers who support closing Guantanamo Bay say the United States should reconsider whether to repatriate suspected terrorists from Yemen, given the Al Qaeda activity in the poor Arab nation.

President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said yesterday that the transfers will continue if the administration deems them warranted. Six Yemenis returned last month were released after the government there determined they were not a threat, officials in Yemen said.

Obama has said an Al Qaeda group operating in Yemen apparently was behind the plot to bring down a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day. The United States and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen yesterday in response to threats from Al Qaeda.

Although Republicans have criticized the transfers to Yemen, some Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have also urged a halt.

Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said yesterday that officials should review the transfers. She does support plans to close the prison and open one in Illinois for terrorism suspects.

“I think it is a bad time to send the 90 or so Yemenis back to Yemen,’’ Harman said on ABC’s “This Week.’’

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who has opposed closing Guantanamo, said transferring any of the Yemeni detainees back home would be irresponsible. “We know from past experience that some of them will be back in the fight against us,’’ he said on the ABC program.

US officials believe two Saudis released from Guantanamo, one in 2006 and the other in 2007, may have played significant roles in Al Qaeda activities in Yemen.

An estimated 90 Yemenis are being held at Guantanamo Bay and about half are set to be sent to Yemen. Those who remain in US custody will be prosecuted in criminal or military courts, Brennan said.

“Some of these individuals are going to be transferred back to Yemen at the right time and the right pace and in the right way,’’ said Brennan, who appeared on four television talk shows yesterday. “We’re making sure that the situation on the ground is taken into account.’’

Yemen has freed the six Yemenis who were released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to the country on Dec. 20. The last two were freed Saturday night. Security officials initially held the six for questioning and investigation since their handover by the United States, but they found no evidence of involvement in terrorism or other crimes.

Obama ends vacation in Hawaii, returns to capital
President Obama wrapped up his vacation yesterday, spending part of his last day in Hawaii reading intelligence assessments and asking advisers about threats to the United States. The 11-day trip to the state where he was born and grew up was not a complete break from work for the chief executive.

His vacation was delayed by a Senate vote on health care legislation, then interrupted by the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight as it prepared to land in Detroit.

Still, Obama played tennis and golf. He also took his daughters to the movies and treated them to shave ice. They headed back to Washington yesterday.