Yemeni detainees are the largest group at Guantanamo [Archives:2007/1032/Front Page]

March 12 2007

Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, March 11 ) A U.S. lawyer revealed that the U.S. military decided years ago that some Yemeni detainees were eligible for release from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, but they remain in prison until today.

“Some of your countrymen were cleared for release by the U.S. military years ago. Just days ago, after we threatened legal action, the Pentagon revealed previously classified information to us – the names of Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo who are eligible for immediate transfer back to Yemen, including three of my clients. Some of the men on the military's list were eligible to return to their home countries at least as early as June 2004,” noted Marc Falkoff, who for the past three years has represented 17 Yemenis being detained by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

A statement by the U.S. Pentagon mentioned that the Yemeni detainees are: Mohammed Mohammed Al-Odaini of Taiz, Sadeq Mohammed Ismail of Ibb, Mohammed Sa'eed Bin Salman of Hadramout, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al-Raimi of Sana'a and Adel Sa'eed Al-Haj Abdo of Aden. The Pentagon said it expects to release approximately 80 detainees of various nationalities from Guantanamo Bay.

According to a list the Yemeni government received from the U.S., approximately 107 Yemenis remain at Guantanamo; however, lawyers and human rights activists say 150 Yemeni detainees remain at the camp.

The Guantanamo Bay military detainment was opened in January 2002 to house suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters rounded up during the U.S. war to topple the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic militia that ruled most of Afghanistan at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

However, Yemeni lawyers and human rights activists insist that most of the Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, who were arrested in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the fall of the Taliban, have no Al-Qaeda links.

“Most Yemenis arrested in Afghanistan were working as Qur'anic and Arabic language teachers for a monthly salary of $100 for married teachers and half that for singles,” explained Ahmed Arman, a lawyer and human rights activist for Yemen's National Organization for Defending Rights and Liberties, also known as HOOD.

More than five years later, only eight Yemenis have been returned to their homeland, Arman noted, adding that Yemenis comprise the largest population at Guantanamo.

“Fully one-third of the Saudis are back in Saudi Arabia, more than half of the Afghanis are home with their families and every single European national has been released from Guantanamo. Yet, more than 100 Yemenis remain at the prison – sitting in solitary confinement on steel beds, deprived of books and newspapers, slowly going insane,” Falkoff confirmed.

He added, “The U.S. doesn't hear the voices of the Yemeni people. You aren't speaking loudly enough to your representatives, pressuring them to reach an agreement with the U.S. for the repatriation of your citizens. With respect, some of us are concerned that your politicians don't feel obliged to negotiate the return of your sons and brothers.”

Falkoff, who is also a criminal law professor, criticized the Yemeni government, which so far has failed to reach an agreement with the U.S. to return the Yemeni detainees. “We lawyers have been frozen out of the process, so we can't tell you exactly what the hold-up has been, but the Yemeni government appears to be anxious that a handful of these more than 100 detainees don't have adequate proof that they are Yemeni citizens.

He continued, “The Yemeni government also seems concerned that by pledging to the U.S. that it won't torture the Guantanamo returnees, Yemen would be admitting that it does torture other prisoners. If these really are the Yemeni government's concerns – and I'm only speculating that they are – then surely they aren't significant enough to hold up the repatriation of your countrymen.

“All of the other countries that have agreed to repatriate their countrymen have provided similar assurances about torture, so these quibbles about a handful of men without citizenship papers surely are of trifling importance,” he added.

In 2005, Yemen received four of its citizens from Guantanamo and secret U.S. military prisons and put them on trial. Two of the men were convicted in March 2006 of falsifying identification documents and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. None were charged with terrorism-related activities. The same thing happened in December 2006, when Yemeni security took five released Guantanamo detainees into custody.

“We've been informed that three of these prisoners have been released, some of them spent three days in jail and some spent two weeks, but we have no idea about the others,” Arman noted, adding that the men were released without putting them on trial.

Khalid Al-Anisi, a lawyer and the executive director of HOOD, stressed that imprisoning these detainees without charge is against the law, commenting, “We've already declared our attitude toward these trials, noting that such trials simply are to justify the term these detainees spent in jail without charge.”