Some Democratic lawmakers who support closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say the US should reconsider whether to repatriate suspected terrorists from Yemen, given al-Qaeda’s activity in the poor Arab nation.
US President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said on Sunday the transfers would 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 US and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen on Sunday in response to threats from al-Qaeda.
Although Republicans have criticized the transfers to Yemen, some Democrats, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California, have also urged a halt.
Representative Jane Harman of California, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said on Sunday 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.
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,” Lieberman said.
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 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,” Brennan said. “We’re making sure that the situation on the ground is taken into account, that we continue to work with the Yemeni government, and we do this in a very commonsense fashion because we want to make sure that we are able to close Guantanamo.”
Yemen has freed the six Yemenis who were released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to the country on Dec. 20, security officials and a lawyer for the men said.
The lawyer, Ahmed al-Arman, said the six were freed from Yemeni custody over the last week, with the last two freed on Saturday night.
They were handed over to their families.
Security officials held the six for questioning and investigation since their handover by the US, but they found no evidence of involvement in terrorism or other crimes, Yemeni security officials said.
The six gave guarantees that they would not leave the country, would not associate with terror groups and would report regularly to the police, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Brennan spoke on Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, ABC’s This Week and CNN’s State of the Union.
Harman and Lieberman appeared on ABC.