White House says no detainees to Yemen for now

January 5, 2010 1:14:40 PM PST
No more detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be sent to Yemen for the time being, the White House announced Tuesday as officials continue to reshape the nation's security posture following a failed Christmas terror plot to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner. The attempted terror attack on a jet arriving in Detroit has heightened concerns about Yemen, because the suspected would-be bomber, a 23-year-old Nigerian passenger, claimed to be acting on instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.

Just days before the incident, the Obama administration had sent six men held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center back to their home country of Yemen.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday the government will not send additional detainees to Yemen for now, which could increase the number of inmates to be held at a planned prison for terror suspects in Illinois.

"We would not move additional people into Yemen right now," Gibbs said.

The White House announcement was expected to further complicate Obama's plans to eventually close the military prison. Nearly half of the 198 detainees held there are from Yemen, said Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Tania Bradsher.

In announcing the decision, the Obama administration is in part bowing to a political reality: Amid the intense debate over security following the attempted attack, any detainee transfer to Yemen would provoke bipartisan criticism.

Republicans and an increasing number of Democrats in Congress had called on the administration to stop Guantanamo transfers to Yemen in light of the Christmas attempt.

Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, praised the decision as the right one, but said he was surprised it took the White House 11 days to make it.

"Over the last year, Yemen has become much more of a front in the war on terrorism," said King, R-N.Y. "I would hope that the administration would use this as a reason not to close Guantanamo, to realize that all they're doing is pandering to world opinion and putting the security of the United States at risk."