Republicans Use Nigerian’s Ties to Yemen to Oppose Closing Gitmo

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Monday, December 28, 2009 at 11:02 am

Following up on Spencer’s post, while President Obama’s critics are silent on the detention of alleged would-be Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab at a federal prison in Michigan, the failed attempt to blow up the flight to Detroit on Christmas has fast become another tool in the arsenal of Republicans seeking to torpedo the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

As Politico reported over the weekend, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) are loudly connecting the dots between the Nigerian suspect’s visit to Yemen and the fact that about 90 Yemeni prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay to conclude that the prison camp in Cuba should not be shut down.

“Yesterday just highlights the fact that sending this many people back—or any people back—to Yemen right now is a really bad idea,” Hoekstra said. “It’s just dumb. … If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.”

King, meanwhile, called it “a major mistake” to send anyone back there. “I don’t think Guantanamo should be closed, but if we’re going to close it I don’t believe we should be sending people to Yemen where prisoners have managed to escape in the past,” he said, citing the claims that Abdulmutallab had trained there.

Even House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) now seems to be hesitating on what to do with the Yemenis. “I’d, at a minimum, say that whatever we were about to do we’d at least have to scrub it again from top to bottom,” he told Politico.

Actually, the U.S. government has been “scrubbing” Yemen quite a bit lately. As The New York Times reports today: “The Pentagon is spending more than $70 million over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels” in an attempt to help Yemen crack down on terrorism.

In addition to helping Yemen root out al-Qaeda, such assistance is also likely aimed at helping President Obama close Guantanamo Bay. Long before the incident on Christmas, the Yemeni government was seen as unstable and unable to control the rise of terror groups within its borders. And the problem of the Yemeni men imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay — including about 34 who have been cleared for release — has been a thorn in the side of the administration’s plans to close the detention camp since they were announced last January.

The six repatriated to Yemen earlier this month had been seen as a sign of progress on that front. The Christmas bombing attempt could become a major setback.

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