Innocent Yemeni Stranded at Guantanamo

A detainee holds prayer beads by a fence inside the medium security portion of Camp Delta detention center, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, Sept. 19, 2006. The United States currently holds about 14,000 detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon.
AP/Photo reviewed by U.S. military
Legally speaking, Guantanamo Bay detainee Alla Ali bin Ali Ahmed should be a free man. He remains behind barbed wire in Cuba because he has nowhere to go.

Ahmed, a 26-year-old Yemeni captured at a Pakistan guesthouse in 2002, was ordered released in May by a federal judge in Washington who found no credible evidence he was involved in terrorism. The government's deadline for appealing Ahmed's release has run out.

Yet Ahmed sits at Guantanamo as the U.S. tries to figure out what to do with dozens of detainees - many of them Yemeni - who officials say probably will be freed. Rather than just send them home, the Obama administration wants the Yemeni detainees to first go through rehabilitation centers in Saudi Arabia before they are released to make sure they pose no threat to Americans.

Ahmed's lawyer said he should be out of Guantanamo shortly.

"We're expecting Mr. Ahmed to be released soon, and we think it's the right result, and we're very pleased about it," Kit Pierson said Friday.

But Ahmed (recorded in court dockets as Ali Bin Ali Aleh) could still be locked up by next January, when the Obama administration plans to shut down Guantanamo.

Despite months of delicate diplomacy, a senior administration official said the U.S. has been unable to persuade Saudi leaders to let the Yemeni go through its rehabilitation center, in part because of a public-relations problem.

Thousands of extremists, including Guantanamo detainees, have received job training, psychological therapy and religious re-education in Saudi jihadist rehabilitation before being sent back to society.

The vast majority have not rejoined the fight. Yet some have. In an embarrassing episode for the kingdom, Saudi officials announced in February that 11 former Guantanamo detainees who went through the rehab program - including Yemenis - were on its government's most wanted terrorist list.

Citing "an ongoing dialogue with Saudi and Yemen," a second government official said the administration is "encouraged by their readiness to work collaboratively as we work through many of the security and legal issues involved."

Adding to the chaos is where the detainees still at Guantanamo will go when - or if - the prison is closed by Jan. 22.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing.

Mr. Obama is looking at bringing them to an as-yet undetermined prison on U.S. soil to be held during prosecution, while they wait for transfer, or in a small number of cases, indefinitely. Congress has blocked money to pay for that until the administration releases plans to make sure Americans are not put at risk.

Duke Law School professor Scott Silliman said President Obama's deadline should be scrapped and Guantanamo kept open until detainees who have been cleared for release are sent to other nations. Doing so would mean that only a minority of detainees would ever be sent to the United States for trial or indefinite detention.

"A plausible option is to keep them outside the United States," said Silliman, director of Duke's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. "Leave Guantanamo open for another six months and then continue to push diplomacy. If you can get rid of the folks you can't criminally charge, you've solved the big problem."

Glenn Sulmasy, an international law professor at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said the U.S. can't expect other nations to take detainees if Americans aren't prepared to do the same.

"I think it'll help garner international support, even though it's not a perfect solution," Sulmasy said. "It's a recognition that we have to do our part, and if other nations are expected to take detainees, it seems that taking steps to provide a detention facility in the U.S. will be beneficial."

For more info:

"60 Minutes": Reeducating Osama Bin Laden's Disciples (05.04.09)
Ali Bin Ali Aleh v. George W. Bush (pdf)
By Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes