Protest in Sana’a over Guantanamo [Archives:2008/1128/Local News]

February 11 2008

Sarah Wolff
& Amira Al-Sharif

SANA'A, Feb. 9 ) Hundreds of people and two human rights organizations protested in front of Parliament on Saturday to demand that the government create a special committee to speed up the repatriation process for the nearly 100 Yemeni detainees held at The United States' Guantanamo Bay military prison.

Though other countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have taken back their countries' detainees, the Yemeni and American governments have yet to reach an agreement about how the prisoners will be repatriated. The United States' deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs said publicly that Yemen must do more to assure that the former detainees do not attack the U.S. or its allies. A main concern is that once released and repatriated, the Yemeni detainees will travel to Iraq to fight in the war.

Attendees at the rally included friends, cousins and family members of detainees currently held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Many of the people that the Yemen Times interviewed had not heard from their loved ones since the beginning of their incarceration at the facility.

“We heard news about him from Red Cross – he is not on trial nor has any accusations against him,” Mohammed Abdullah Al-Bakri, father of Ameen Al-Bakri, who was arrested in 2002. “We want information about why he has not returned yet.”

Others like Mohammed Ali Omar, the brother of detainee Othman Ali Omar, say that fraudulent government officials should be detained in Guantanamo instead of his brother.

“Exchange our Yemeni detainees in return for our corrupt rulers,” said Ali Omar.

Anger and confusion reigned at the rally, and many of the protesters expressed frustration at the lack of information they had received about the Yemeni prisoners. Though some directed their anger at the Yemeni government for not doing enough to obtain the prisoners' release, many others attended to voice their outrage at both the U.S. and Yemeni governments and to demand the closure of the infamous military prison.

Majed Al-Hoseen, a friend of the detainee Basheer Ali Al-Marwalah, said that he wanted freedom of all of the inmates, not only the Yemeni detainees. “We do not think that the Yemeni Government does not want to receive Yemeni detainees,” he said. Al-Hoseen implied that he thought the problem with repatriation was America's fault.

The human rights group HOOD organized the protest, and insisted that the government make a special committee to discuss the plans for obtaining the Yemeni prisoners' release. Another human rights organization, Al-Karamah, also showed up to support the cause.

The American government said that Yemeni government refused to accept them, while the Yemeni government said that American Government refused to send them back to their homes,” said Khalid Al-Ansi, a lawyer and executive director of HOOD. “We don't know the reality. So we are here asking for a parliamentary committee to investigate.”

President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued a letter last week to American Ambassador to Yemen Steven Seche, asking for the immediate release of the Guantanamo detainees. But the disagreement at the heart of prisoner negotiation remains the same: how will Yemen rehabilitate and keep track of these former detainees?

Though Yemen's government has previously rehabilitated convicts held in the Central Prison through skills-training programs, it is unclear what tactics or plans it will use to deal with the Guantanamo inmates. However, it was reported in the international media that Yemen tried to initiate an Islamic religion re-training program begun in Saudi Arabia. Thus far, Yemenis with jihadist backgrounds released from U.S. or Yemeni custody have only to sign a statement, backed by family and tribe members, claiming that they will no longer pursue violent jihad.

“The Yemeni reaction is clear and frank; return the detainees, and anyone who has accusations against him will complete his punishment in Yemen. Anyone who does not have accusations against him will return to Yemen and live his normal life,” said Sheikh Abdo Raboh Al-Omari, a member of the General People's Congress. “Yemen's government is weak, as our president Saleh asked for their return in every summit and in Europe, but there has been no response.”

“Our government said it is not true at all – they demanded many times to get back detainees,” said Abdul Rahman Bafadel, member of the Islah Party. “Yemen refused any conditions; we want detainees without any conditions.”

“America considers Yemen to be a tribal country. They are afraid of Yemenis as they find them everywhere they go; in Iraq, in Afghanistan,” he continued. “Yemen's policy is not what they think. They should give us our detainees and we are free to deal with them according to our constitutional laws.”

The New York Times reported on Friday that the US Military's Joint Task Force is preparing to try six high-priority prisoners within a few months in a military court. Among the prisoners who will go to trial is Ramzi Bin Al-Shaibah, a Yemeni citizen and former roommate of Mohammed Atta, purported leader of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

This news directly follows the U.S.'s recent admission of the use of controversial interrogation techniques like water boarding, as well as the existence of a secret “prison within a prison” inside of the Guantanamo Bay facility, as reported in USA Today newspaper.