US transfers Guantanamo detainee to Yemen after 8 years in offshore US prison

By David Mcfadden, AP
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

US transfers Gitmo prisoner to Yemen

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A Guantanamo Bay prisoner has been transferred to his homeland of Yemen, the U.S. Defense Department announced on Tuesday, after a U.S. district court ordered the longtime detainee’s release.

The release of 26-year-old Mohammed Odaini after eight years at Guantanamo Bay was an exception to the Obama administration’s freeze on prisoner transfers to the turbulent country after the failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the failed attempt.

“The suspension of Yemeni repatriations from Guantanamo remains in effect due to the security situation that exists there. However, the administration respects the decisions of U.S. federal courts,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Yemen, a poor country with a weak central government on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has struggled to confront a growing al-Qaida presence.

American worries about Yemen’s ability to fight al-Qaida heightened last year after several Yemeni detainees who had been released from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba resurfaced as leaders of an al-Qaida offshoot. Those concerns deepened in the wake of the failed Christmas attack.

In a July 8 letter to U.S. national security adviser James Jones, Republican Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri criticized the transfer of Odaini, arguing there was not “sufficient information and time to evaluate whether his release to a country with little capability to provide adequate security of monitoring is in the best interests of our national security.”

Obama has vowed not to release any detainee who would endanger the American people.

Attorney David Remes, who represented Odaini, described his transfer as a “heartening development” and said that his client was delighted to hear he would be getting out of Guantanamo and returning to his native land.

Odaini, also known as Mohammed Hassen, was 17 when he was first captured in Pakistan at an alleged al-Qaeda safe house in Faisalabad. He had maintained that he was studying the Quran and had no links to al-Qaida. He was never charged with a crime.

On May 26, Judge Henry K. Kennedy Jr. of U.S. District Court in Washington ruled that Odaini was unlawfully detained at Guantanamo for eight years and ordered his release, saying there was no evidence to prove he had any connection to the terror group.

Remes said there are 58 Yemenis cleared for release still at Guantanamo’s prison.

“One would hope that they would return all 58 of the Yemenis,” Remes said from Washington.

Prisoners from Yemen are the largest group left at Guantanamo, so finding new homes for them is key to Obama’s pledge to close the prison.

The latest transfer brings the total of prisoners held at Guantanamo to about 180.

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