On Monday a federal court judge ordered the Department of Defense to release a 47-year-old father of two with a heart condition who it has imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for the past seven years without justification. But like the other Yemeni men cleared for release but still held at the detention facility, it’s not clear when or even if Mohammed al-Adahi will get to go free.
Obama administration officials on Wednesday boasted that they’d secured agreements from six European countries to accept Guantanamo detainees, although the United States itself has still refused to free any Guantanamo prisoners on U.S. soil. But since President Obama’s inauguration in January, the administration has not released a single prisoner to Yemen, although that country is willing to have them back and many would be happy to go there. (Some prisoners from other countries, such as the Uighurs from China, cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of persecution.) The administration has not stated its reasons, but said only that the State Department is negotiating with the Yemeni government over the prisoners’ return. At least three Yemeni prisoners since April have won their petitions for habeas corpus in federal court — meaning a judge has ordered that the government must let them go. (The government has cleared for release an unknown number of others.) So far, though, the Obama administration has not complied with those court rulings.
The United States has long been reluctant to return Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, where al-Qaeda is believed to be active. As a result, of about 550 prisoners released from Guantanamo by Bush officials, only 14 were from Yemen. But that trickle has slowed to a complete halt under the Obama administration, despite court rulings that the government hasn’t shown the men have done anything wrong or present any security risk.
Nearly 100 of the remaining 223 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are from Yemen. A government official on Wednesday said that negotiations are ongoing. Now that two U.S. federal courts have ordered at least three Yemeni prisoners freed, however, it’s not clear under what power the United States can continue to hold them.
“We appreciate that the United States has security concerns about Yemen, but continuing to hold these men without charge is morally wrong, is in violation of court orders, and it’s handing al-Qaeda a recruiting tool,” said Letta Taylor, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who wrote a report on the Yemeni detainees’ situation in March. “It creates its own sets of risks.”
I live in Buffalo, NY, which at one time not too long ago, was also a place “where al-Qaeda was believed to be active.” So if I were wrongfully arrested, should I have been held indefinitely instead of releasing me back into the dangerous recruiting grounds of Buffalo?
This is a very strange mix of pre-emptive action, based on the idea that we should prevent hypothetical crimes which have not yet been committed but might or might not be in the future; and good old fashioned collective punishment. Since somewhere in Yemen al-Qaeda might be active, everyone who happens to have been born there apparently can not be released from detention regardless of whether or not they’ve actually committed any crime at all.