Is USA asking for too much? [Archives:2007/1081/Local News]

August 30 2007

By: Yemen Times Staff
SANA'A, Aug. 29 ) A National petition calling for the release of the Yemenis held in Guantanamo prison has been launched. So far the campaign has l50,000 signatures. The aim is to present one million signatures to the Yemeni government.

The petition was launched by Al-Saraha independent newspaper. It has called on national organizations and individuals in Yemen to participate in the one million signatures petition. Several human right organizations have already responded to the campaign.

According editor in chief of the newspaper Saif Al-Washali, his establishment aims at promoting freedoms and human rights issues, and Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo is their first priority.

Too many conditions

The petition is well timed. American and British lawyers who are representing Yemeni detainees, are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in agreeing the details of their clients' release. The delay is caused by the list of conditions the US wishes to impose.

The US want reassurance that the prisoners will be detained in an humane way; that the US be informed if they are released and that restrictions should be placed on their movements when they are released.

The Yemeni Government says that the US conditions are irrelevant because the country's Constitution covers humane treatment and fair trial and that is sufficient guarantee. They do not wish to be told further how to handle the prisoners once they are back in Yemen.

Ordesse Hamad, a British lawyer representing four Yemeni detainees, arrived in Sana'a this week to meet with relatives of the detainees. He works with a British organisation called “Reprieve” that represents prisoners denied justice in the name of the War on Terror. Hamad said he felt maybe the Americans were asking for too much.

“The Foreign Minister with whom I had a meeting yesterday gave me the impression that he did not wish to be told by the Americans how to handle the prisoners.”

“I just wish the Yemeni Government would send a high level delegation to Washington to solve these issues. This is what other countries have done. Now is the time for action”

“I cannot understand why the process is taking so long. Perhaps it is something to do with the relationship between Yemen and the US; perhaps there are talks going on at a diplomatic level that we do not know about. Perhaps it is because Yemen is worried about having such people back inside the country. They will certainly be detained for sometime while they are thoroughly investigated. There are indeed some queries about whether the 97 are all Yemenis, but nationality is easy to prove.”

However, foreign minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi confirmed to Yemen Times last week that there are no negotiations regarding the return of Yemeni detainees between Yemen and USA.

However, Al-Qirbi confirmed that Yemen has not received any correspondence from the US government since the return of the four prisoners in June regarding the release of more prisoners. He also commented that the Guantanamo Bay authorities are busy with “legal problems” concerning the legitimacy of the prison and have not taken any action towards the release of more prisoners.

Hamad insists on the innocence of the four Yemenis he represents and accused the US government of detaining them without legal proof.

Marc Falkoff, US lawyer who is representing some 17 Yemenis who have been held by the US military since January 2002, also admitted that there was an element of hypocrisy in America's desire to ensure that the Yemeni prisoners are well treated: after all prisoners were not well treated in Guantanamo!

However, he said: ” It is imperative that we move beyond the finger-pointing by both sides – Washington and Sana'a – in order to make bring about the repatriation of the Yemeni prisoners. Both sides must share some of the blame for the impasse, and work together to bring about a resolution. It is not enough for President Bush to declare that we want to close down Guantanamo, and it is not enough for President Saleh to say that we insist that our citizens be returned home. Both sides have to engage in true negotiation and diplomacy. Action means sending a delegation from Yemen to America in order to iron out the details of a transfer. True leaders do more than talk: they make things happen.

Majority of detainees are Yemeni

Yemen is the country with the most prisoners at Guantanamo: The figure is 97. So far only 12 of the original 107 have been returned. Whereas, all of the Europeans, and Russians have been repatriated, all of the Bahrainis, 70 per cent of Afghanis, 85 per cent of the Pakistanis, and more than half of the Saudis.

Why is Yemen, of all countries with prisoners at Guantanamo, the only country that has doubts about the nationality of the prisoners? Even if Yemen has doubts about a handful of prisoners, why doesn't it accept back the scores of men about whom it has no doubt? Questioned Falkoff.

“My point is simple. As Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Australia, France and the United Kingdom have demonstrated, the prisoners from Guantanamo will be released only when their home countries insist that they be returned. You read president Bush's statement in which he said the reason prisoners remain at Guantanamo is because their home countries would not accept them – well, he was primarily talking about Yemen,” Falkoff said.