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U.S. considers partially lifting ban on transfers of detainees to Yemen

In previous cases in which Yemenis have been ordered released, the government has appealed. But the administration official said it would be "unconscionable" to appeal in this case.

Two options

Odaini was recommended or approved for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay by various military or government officials in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009, according to Kennedy's judgment. But he remained at Guantanamo Bay.

The administration official said there are basically two options in the case: repatriate Odaini, the son of a retired Yemeni security official, or quickly find another country willing to resettle him.

The second option may be complicated, however. Odaini's "strong preference" is to return home, according to his attorney, David Remes. And countries that have so far resettled Guantanamo detainees have accepted only those who had nowhere else to go and who wanted to be resettled.

There are about 90 Yemenis held at Guantanamo Bay, the largest single group by nationality among the 181 detainees held at the military detention center.

Administration officials fear that the Yemeni government, which does not control all of its own territory and is facing a terrorist threat from a splinter group called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is not able to ensure that released detainees will not return to the fight.

Advocates for some of the Yemeni detainees say they do not pose a security risk. Asked whether there are other cases as stark as Odaini's, his attorney, Remes, said he was "certain of it."

"Why the government fights so tenaciously to keep men such as Mr. Odaini in prison unless and until the government sees fit to release them is the great mystery of this litigation, especially since President Obama took office," said Remes, who represents 14 Yemenis held at Guantanamo Bay. "They seem unable to admit they've ever made a mistake."

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