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Do Graham, McCain and Lieberman Want Obama to Take Back Yemeni Detainees?

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) sent a letter to President Obama today asking him to halt the transfer of six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. The request, they say, is in light of the danger they’ve apparently just now realized Yemen poses, because Nigerian terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has said he was trained there.

The only problem: those six detainees have already been returned to Yemen.

According to a Department of Justice announcement on Dec. 20, six Yemeni detainees — Jamal Muhammad Alawi Mari, Farouq Ali Ahmed, Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi, Muhammaed Yasir Ahmed Taher, Fayad Yahya Ahmed al Rami and Riyad Atiq Ali Abdu al Haf — were transferred to the government of Yemen more than ten days ago.

Still, the senators wrote today, in the wake of the Christmas Day averted disaster, “to express our deep concern” about the plans to transfer them. “Given the security situation in Yemen and the failure of the Yemeni government to secure high-value prisoners in the past, we believe that any such transfers would be highly unwise and ill-considered.”

In fact, concerns about terrorist activity in Yemen date back years, not just to last week. That’s why the Obama administration has stepped up its support for the Yemeni government’s attacks on terrorist targets there, and has refrained from sending Yemenis home until just recently. (President George W. Bush, on the other hand, sent 14 Yemenis home from Guantanamo during his tenure.) It’s interesting that these three senators are only now discovering the problem, and somehow didn’t know that the six men in question had already been sent home.

Update 6:30 pm: Graham’s office just responded with this explanation: “They’re trying to stop the transfer of a number of detainees back to Yemen until we are certain these detainees will not make their way back to the battlefield. Media reports have said there were at least 34 Yemeni detainees in the pipeline set to be sent back.”

But this still doesn’t explain the “six Yemeni detainees” referenced in the letter. I’ve asked Graham’s office for clarification. I’m also expecting confirmation shortly from the Justice Department. Stay tuned.

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