Earlier versions of this article, including in the print edition of Friday's Washington Post, misstated the number of Yemeni detainees represented by attorney David Remes. He represents 17 Yemeni detainees.
Six Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be repatriated
The Obama administration is planning to repatriate six Yemenis held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a transfer that could be a prelude to the release of dozens more detainees to Yemen, according to sources with independent knowledge of the matter.
The release is a significant first step toward dealing with the largest group of detainees at the prison -- there are currently 97 Yemenis there -- and toward meeting President Obama's goal of closing the facility.
But Yemen's security problems and lack of resources have spawned fears about its ability to monitor and rehabilitate returnees. Critics of the administration charge that returning detainees to Yemen, a country where al-Qaeda is believed to be thriving, is tantamount to returning terrorists to the battlefield.
The six Yemenis, along with four Afghans, will be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay in coming days. The release follows months of high-level meetings between the government in Yemen and senior American officials, as well as a visit to the country last week by Stephen R. Kappes, the deputy director of the CIA, sources said. The CIA declined to comment.
The transfer will be closely monitored and, if successful, could lead to the release of other Yemenis who have been cleared to go home by a Justice Department-led interagency review team, which examined the case of each detainee held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama set up the review process to accelerate the closure of the detention center.
"It's a breakthrough because the U.S. and Yemen governments have been at an impasse," said David Remes, an attorney for 17 Yemeni detainees, when asked about the impending transfer. "Something has broken the logjam, and that's good, because you can't solve the Guantanamo problem without solving the Yemeni problem."
Since the detention center in Guantanamo Bay opened in early 2002, 15 Yemenis who were deemed not to be a threat have been repatriated: 14 by the Bush administration and one by the Obama administration.
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, declined to identify the latest detainees being released in advance of the transfer. A Justice Department spokesman would not comment.
Yemenis account for 46 percent of the 210 inmates remaining at Guantanamo Bay. Three of those Yemenis have been ordered released by federal judges following proceedings in which they challenged their detention under the doctrine of habeas corpus. Two of those decisions have been appealed by the government.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a critic of the administration policy on Guantanamo, said Yemeni detainees pose a particular risk because of the instability of their home country.
"Stop. These men are dangerous," Wolf said when asked about the transfer. "I believe they will be involved in terrorism that will cost American lives."
Although at least 34 Yemenis have been cleared for release, the fate of more than 60 others remains uncertain. Some will be tried in either federal court or military commissions, and others will likely be held in some system of prolonged detention at a prison in Thomson, Ill., once the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is closed.