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Yemen's handling of ex- Guantanamo detainees has U.S. officials concerned

Askari said that he was a Taliban foot soldier in Afghanistan but that he had no links to al-Qaeda. U.S. soldiers captured him in Pakistan in late 2001 and sent him to Guantanamo.

In December 2007, he returned to Yemen. He was thrown in a government jail for 45 days and released only after a businessman agreed to sign a "guarantee" that Askari would not cause any problems. That voucher cost Askari's family 30,000 rials, or $150, a princely sum here.

"It's easier to guarantee the release of a thief than someone who was in Guantanamo," said Askari, who is single and lives in Taizz, a southern city.

None of the detainees who have returned have joined al-Qaeda, say human rights groups and Yemeni intelligence officials. But the vast majority remain angry and disgruntled, unable to shake off the stigma of Guantanamo. Pressured by the United States, the Yemeni government closely monitors them.

The more their frustration builds, the greater the odds they could embrace extremism, human rights advocates say.

"If nothing is done to help them, some could rejoin al-Qaeda," Askari said.

Of the Yemenis who remain at Guantanamo, approximately 34 have been cleared for release by an interagency review team led by the Justice Department. However, several were cleared only for entry into a highly regarded rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, said a U.S. official in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

But Saudi Arabia has balked at taking the Yemenis into the program. The prospect of a deal to transfer them to the kingdom is, "if not dead, on life support," the official said.

This year, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised to build a rehabilitation center modeled after Saudi Arabia's. That hasn't happened yet, Western diplomats said.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said the United States and Europe need to provide more assistance. "Yemen should not be blamed when it does not get the support and resources it needs to deal with terrorism," he said.

A failed program

Until 2005, Yemen had its own rehabilitation program. Today, it is widely considered to have been a failure. There was no follow-up support for graduates. Many went on to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia, according to human rights activists. Tortured and abused, others became radicalized in prison and joined al-Qaeda. Some were believed to have been involved in the U.S. Embassy bombing.


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