Guantánamo and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers

7.1.10

Umar Farouk AbdulmutallabFor the last 12 days, since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slipped through every security net going, and tried and failed to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, Republican critics of Barack Obama have tried every trick in the book to undermine the President’s authority, with former Vice President Dick Cheney claiming that the incident demonstrated that Obama’s “low key response” to the failed attack “makes us less safe,” and numerous lawmakers and pundits — joined by a few easily frightened Democrats — stating that no more Yemeni prisoners should be released from Guantánamo, following the transfer to Yemeni custody of six men the weekend before the failed attack.

The first of these assaults on the administration was dealt with robustly, in response to Dick Cheney’s statement to Politico, when the former VP claimed:

[I]t is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantánamo and releases the hard-core al-Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, “war on terror,” we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe.

Cheney’s statement ended bizarrely: “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.”

However, when replying on the official White House blog, communications director Dan Pfeiffer ignored Cheney’s attempt to cast Obama’s aspirations for US society in a dark light, and focused on the failings of his predictable attempt to portray Obama as “soft on terror,” pointing out that he knows the country is at war but “doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it,” and adding:

To put it simply: the president is not interested in bellicose rhetoric. He is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al-Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president.

John BrennanOn Sunday, John Brennan, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, delivered an even more damning verdict on Cheney’s remarks, telling FOX News Sunday:

It’s disappointing to me that either the vice president or others have willfully mischaracterized President Obama’s position and actions or they’re just ignorant of the facts. I think in either case, it doesn’t speak well to the reasons why they went out and said these things. I came back into government for the express purpose of making sure that we can make this country safer than it’s ever been in the past. I have worked with the president over the past 12 months now and he is as determined as anybody I’ve worked with. I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. I’ve worked with the previous five administrations and this president is determined. And I think he has demonstrated [that] in his language. He says we’re at war with al-Qaeda, we’re going to destroy al-Qaeda the organization and we’re going to demonstrate through our actions, whether it be in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other places, that al-Qaeda might be able to run, but they’re not going to be able to hide.

As a CIA veteran who was “widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency,” until he “withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program” (as the New York Times explained in December 2008), Brennan is perfectly qualified to defend Obama against criticism from Republican opportunists, but it is a sign of how skewed what passes for debate is nowadays that his resounding defense of his boss’s anti-terror credentials is necessary at all, as, for the most part, Obama’s defense of Bush-era policies regarding Military Commissions, indefinite detention, Bagram and “state secrets” — as well as his surge in Afghanistan — has left progressives wondering how much difference there actually is between Obama and his predecessor.

The truth is that the noisy, negative wing of the Republican party will not be happy however much Obama demonstrates that he shares their concerns, but whereas anyone capable of rational thought will have concluded that Brennan’s appearance on Sunday should have silenced the snipers, the administration has had far less success fighting back against the voices raised in support of calls to call off any proposed transfers of Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo.

Supporters of Guantánamo, and critics of releasing any more of the 198 men still held, were fired up in particular by an inaccurate report on ABC News, in which it was stated that two former Guantánamo prisoners were amongst the leaders of the al-Qaeda-inspired group in Yemen that claimed responsibility for the failed attack. ABC News later conceded that one of these two men had in fact surrendered to the Yemeni authorities in February 2009, and therefore could have had nothing to do with the plot, but by then the damage had been done.

For these critics, the truth is nothing more than an inconvenient obstacle to their political maneuvering. None of them care that the solitary former prisoner accused of involvement with the terrorist group is a Saudi, and that he was released by President George W. Bush, despite the intelligence services’ insistence that he posed a threat to the United States. Neither do they care that no proof has been provided that he was directly involved in the failed plane bombing. Moreover, none of them has paused for a moment to consider that there is no reason whatsoever to dream up connections between the Saudi — Said al-Shihri — and the 40 or so Yemenis in Guantánamo that the Obama administration proposes to transfer to Yemeni custody, because, unlike President Bush, the Obama administration had been reviewing the cases of these men throughout 2009, and has no intention of repeating its predecessors’ mistakes.

On Sunday, John Brennan attempted to seize the initiative on this issue as well. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” when Gloria Borger named a second Saudi — Ibrahim al-Rubaysh — who is reportedly connected to the Yemeni al-Qaeda cell, declared (without providing proof) that he was connected to the Christmas plot, and asked, “Does it make you rethink your decision to release six prisoners back into Yemen last month from Guantánamo?” Brennan delivered a stout defense of the administration’s policies:

No, it doesn’t, because that was the result of a very meticulous and rigorous process that we’ve had in place since the beginning of this administration. Now let me put some facts out here. The last administration released 532 detainees from Guantánamo. During this administration, we have transferred in fact 42 of these individuals overseas. I have been in constant dialogue with the Yemenis about the arrangements that are in place.

Several of those individuals were put into custody as soon as they returned to Yemen. So we are making sure that we don’t do anything that is going to put American citizens, whether they be in Yemen or here in the States, at risk by our decisions about releasing — transferring these detainees.

Pressed as to what would happen to the Yemenis approved for transfer to Yemen by the administration’s interagency Task Force (up to half of the 86 Yemenis still in Guantánamo), Brennan explained that they would be “transferred back to Yemen at the right time and the right pace and in the right way,” and elaborated on the procedures that had already taken place regarding the release of the six men on the weekend of December 19/20, whose stories I described in an article last week:

[W]e made a decision that we would send back six because we were very pleased with the way of Yemeni government handled the one individual we sent back about eight weeks ago [Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, whose release was ordered by a US judge in May]. And so we’re making sure that the situation on the ground is taken into account. That we continue to work with the Yemeni government, and we do this in a very common-sense fashion because we want to make sure that we are able to close Guantánamo. Guantánamo has been used as a propaganda tool by al-Qaeda and others. We need to close that facility. And we’re determined to do that.

Pressed further, Brennan refused to draw spurious connections between the Christmas plot and the cleared Yemenis in Guantánamo, telling Borger, “The attempted attack by Mr. Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day was a unique incident. We have been monitoring and watching the situation in Yemen develop over time. That one incident on the 25th of December doesn’t change the situation on the ground in Yemen one bit.”

As far as I was concerned, John Brennan’s appearance was a masterful display of common sense in the face of a whirlwind of manufactured fear, but it seems that not everyone in the White House thought so, and, no doubt making decisions based on voter feedback rather than on fixed principles, the administration took a step back on Tuesday, sending White House spokesman Robert Gibbs out to tell reporters, “While we remain committed to closing the facility, the determination has been made that right now any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea.”

Later in the evening, in a televised statement, President Obama reiterated the message, saying, “Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the attorney general and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.” He added, “Make no mistake. We will close Guantánamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

If this is the case, it might have made more sense to defuse the “recruiting tool” sooner rather than later, sending back some more of the patently innocent Yemenis still in Guantánamo rather than allowing the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening on Monday to be marked by inaction.

Moreover, by capitulating to pressure from unprincipled critics, the Obama administration has also tacitly acknowledged that Cheney-style rhetoric, and mistaken inferences about Saudi prisoners released by George W. Bush, in spite of advice not to do so, are being allowed to dictate the current government’s more considered response to Yemenis deprived of their liberty for no reason for eight years. As the Center for Constitutional Rights complained in a press release following the announcement:

Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government’s Guantánamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts … Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable.

When he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama said, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.” What he said in December should be just as true a month later.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

An edited version of this article was published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Cross-posted on Campaign for Liberty, Infowars, Prison Planet and DoomDaily.

40 Responses

  1. Little Brother says...

    Tragically, where rogue nation governments practice imperialism, triumphalism, and exceptionalism, collective punishment, stigmatization, and guilt by association is inevitably bound to arise.

    As will the rogue-state government’s concomitant or complementary mega-denial.

    Not only will said government(s) refuse to admit to these utterly nefarious and reprehensible practices– they will develop a sophisticated rhetoric of indignant self-righteousness, and never miss a chance to declare at the top of their lungs that:

    1) they in no way, shape, or form advocate, much less practice collective punishment; and,
    2) the group they’re not collectively-punishing has it coming anyway.

    Can I get a Yemen?

  2. Guantánamo and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 7 January [...]

  3. On Democracy Now! Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo, Yemen, Lies, Hysteria and the False Recidivism Report « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Yemenis From Guantánamo (which contains profiles of the six men released before Christmas), Guantánamo and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers, Yemenis in Guantánamo are Victims of Hysteria and Guantánamo Recidivism: Mainstream Media Parrot [...]

  4. The Liberty Voice » Web-Only Content » “On Democracy Now! Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo, Yemen, Lies, Hysteria and the False Recidivism Report” says...

    [...] Yemenis From Guantánamo (which contains profiles of the six men released before Christmas), Guantánamo and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers, Yemenis in Guantánamo are Victims of Hysteria and Guantánamo Recidivism: Mainstream Media Parrot [...]

  5. Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] notorious for a barrage of lies and misinformation, and a promise by President Obama that he was freezing the release of all Yemeni prisoners until further [...]

  6. Happy 8th Birthday Gitmo: an interview with watchdog Andy Worthington « Pluto Press – Independent Progressive Publishing says...

    [...] had engaged in terrorist activities. You wrote a number of articles about these topics (see here, here and here, and also discussed them on Democracy Now! on Friday, and I was hoping in this [...]

  7. Rubbing Salt in Guantanamo’s Wounds: Task Force Announces Indefinite Detentions | themcglynn.com/theliberal.net says...

    [...] released by Obama, but it is not without its problems. The Post tiptoed around Obama’s cowardly refusal to release any cleared Yemenis for the foreseeable future, in the face of unprincipled attacks from [...]

  8. LT Saloon |  Rubbing Salt in Guantanamo’s Wounds: Task Force Announces Indefinite Detentions says...

    [...] released by Obama, but it is not without its problems. The Post tiptoed around Obama’s cowardly refusal to release any cleared Yemenis for the foreseeable future, in the face of unprincipled attacks from [...]

  9. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] the Republicans’ assault on decency, common sense and the law, in relation to terrorism, escalated in the wake of the failed Christmas Day plane bombing, with a high-level revolt against trying [...]

  10. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Bush and Cheney’s Torture, Lies « Chrisy58’s Weblog says...

    [...] the Republicans’ assault on decency, common sense and the law, in relation to terrorism, escalated in the wake of the failed Christmas Day plane bombing, with a high-level revolt against trying [...]

  11. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies « Dr Nasir Khan says...

    [...] the Republicans’ assault on decency, common sense and the law, in relation to terrorism, escalated in the wake of the failed Christmas Day plane bombing, with a high-level revolt against trying [...]

  12. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Bush and Cheney’s Torture, Lies | Amauta says...

    [...] the Republicans’ assault on decency, common sense and the law, in relation to terrorism, escalated in the wake of the failed Christmas Day plane bombing, with a high-level revolt against trying [...]

  13. House Kills Plan to Close Guantanamo « SpeakEasy says...

    [...] been cleared for release, reviving plans for returning dozens of cleared men to Yemen (which were shelved in the most cowardly manner after it was revealed that the would-be Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had [...]

  14. More “Congressional Depravity” on Guantanamo « SpeakEasy says...

    [...] has clearly been set up as a national security concern — and is just as clearly influenced by the overreaction to the Christmas arrest of the would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had apparently [...]

  15. Andy Worthington: More “Congressional Depravity” on Guantanamo « In The News « Obama America says...

    [...] has clearly been set up as a national security concern — and is just as clearly influenced by the overreaction to the Christmas arrest of the would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had apparently [...]

  16. Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who Is at Guantánamo? « The Situation Room says...

    [...] men were freed last year, but Obama bowed to political pressure and halted all further releases to Yemen in January, just weeks before the report was published, in response to a wave of hysteria that [...]

  17. Mirage In The Desert « red says...

    [...] prisoners could be returned to that country. To quiet these bedwetters, the Obama administration suspended the return of Guantanamo prisoners, like Odaini, to [...]

  18. Gonzalo Gato Villegas » Blog Archive » ¿Sabe realmente Obama, le preocupa acaso, quién sigue en Guantánamo? says...

    [...] Obama se doblegó a las presiones políticas y detuvo en enero el resto de liberaciones hacia el Yemen, justo semanas antes de que se publicara el informe, en respuesta a la oleada de histeria con que [...]

  19. Arbitrary Government Kidnapping Under the Cloak of ‘Objectivity’ « Little Alex in Wonderland says...

    [...] 66 for release. Seven of these men were freed last year, but Obama bowed to political pressure and halted all further releases to Yemen in January, just weeks before the report was published, in response to a wave of hysteria that [...]

  20. Andy Worthington: More "Congressional Depravity" on Guantanamo | BlackNewsTribune.com says...

    [...] has clearly been set up as a national security concern — and is just as clearly influenced by the overreaction to the Christmas arrest of the would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had apparently [...]

  21. Guantánamo is “a piece of hell that kills everything”: A bleak New Year message from Yemeni prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif | The Muslim Justice Initiative says...

    [...] this inexplicable — or deeply cyncial — step, Latif would still be held, because of a moratorium on releasing any Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo, which was issued by President Obama last January after a hysterical response to [...]

  22. Guantánamo Is “A Piece of Hell That Kills Everything”: A Bleak New Year Message from Yemeni Prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] not taken this inexplicable — or deeply cyncial — step, Latif would still be held, because of a moratorium on releasing any Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo, which was issued by President Obama last January after a hysterical response to [...]

  23. As Activists Plan Protest for 9th Anniv. of Guantánamo, Former Gitmo Commander Subpoenaed in Spain over Prisoner Torture + Ending Bush’s big lie on Guantánamo « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] new home. As I explained with regard to the Yemenis, “It’s been a year now since the President announced a moratorium on releasing any prisoner from Guantánamo to Yemen because of the uproar that came about because, [...]

  24. Anwar Al-Awlaqi: Judge Rules that President’s Decision to Assassinate US Citizens Abroad, Without Due Process or Explanation, is “Judicially Unreviewable” « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] wake of the failed Christmas Day bombing, President Obama capitulated to Republican hysteria and announced a moratorium on the release of any more Yemenis from Guantánamo, even though the Guantánamo Review Task Force [...]

  25. Guantánamo Guard and Ex-Prisoners Meet (via the BBC) « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] up fear and paranoia in the wake of the failed plane bomb on Christmas Day. With President Obama capitulating to unreasonable demands to prevent the release of any more cleared Yemeni prisoners, the supporters of Guantánamo appear [...]

  26. It Costs $72 Million A Year to Hold Cleared Prisoners at Guantánamo by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen, President Obama bowed to pressure and issued a moratorium on releasing any more Yemenis from Guantánamo. This shows no sign of being dropped, even though [...]

  27. As Judges Kill Off Habeas Corpus For Guantánamo Prisoners, Will Supreme Court Act? says...

    [...] Yemen off-limits since January 2010, when Obama issued a moratorium on any further prisoner releases to Yemen following a hysterical response to the news that the [...]

  28. AS-SABIRUN » NEWS : Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago says...

    [...] on a flight into the US on Christmas Day 2009, had been recruited in Yemen, President Obama issued a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo in January 2010. This is still in place nearly two and a [...]

  29. Obama Releases Names of Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners; Now It’s Time to Set Them Free « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] his underwear. As a result of that foiled plot, President Obama responded to a wave of hysteria by announcing a moratorium on releasing any cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo. This remains in place two years and eight months [...]

  30. Who Are Remaining Prisoners In Guantánamo? Part Three: Captured Crossing From Afghanistan Into Pakistan » World Uyghur Congress says...

    [...] Review Task Force, they are waiting to see if the President will, at any point in the future, lift the unprincipled moratorium on transfers to Yemen that he announced in [...]

  31. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » The Fun-Filled Ocean Resort at Guantánamo Bay says...

    [...] to languish in cages with no release possible. That inexcusable injustice is due in part to a moratorium imposed by Obama – that’s imposed by Obama, not Congress – on the relea…, who compose the bulk of the remaining detainees (that includes Adnan Latif, who died at the age of [...]

  32. Prison-wide hunger strike still rages at Guantánamo | Moorbey'z Blog says...

    [...] president himself is to blame for imposing a blanket ban on the release of two-thirds of these men – all Yemenis – after a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk [...]

  33. House Kills Plan to Close Guantanamo | Mediaroots says...

    [...] been cleared for release, reviving plans for returning dozens of cleared men to Yemen (which were shelved in the most cowardly manner after it was revealed that the would-be Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had [...]

  34. Obama, Guantánamo y la persistente vergüenza nacional | América says...

    [...] el Presidente del Yemen. Pero en enero de 2010, Obama –no el Congreso, sino Obama- anunció una moratoria en la liberación de los detenidos yemeníes, incluso de aquellos cuya liberación se había [...]

  35. freedetainees.org – Little Progress in the Four Months Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Cleared Prisoners from Guantánamo says...

    […] he sought to release would be unable to engage in terrorism in the future. Another reason was a ban on releasing cleared Yemeni prisoners, who comprise 56 of those cleared for release but still held, which President Obama imposed in […]

  36. Close Guantánamo: We Still Have Three Urgent Demands for President Obama by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] in January 2010, and 56 of those men are Yemenis. Although it is important that President Obama lifted the ban he himself imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis, following the failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009, which […]

  37. Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and WikiLeaks with Rob Kall of Op-Ed News | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] been cleared for release, but are still held because 58 are Yemenis (prevented from being freed by an unprincipled moratorium issued by President Obama last January), and the rest await third countries to offer them an […]

  38. The Guantanamo Experiment & A Collective Test of Human(e) Traits | THE YIN FACTOR says...

    […] in his underwear, and after it was discovered that he had been recruited in Yemen, President Obama imposed a ban on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo, despite the recommendation of his task force. This ban […]

  39. freedetainees.org – Waiting for progress on Guantanamo says...

    […] but still held. In January 2010, when Obama’s task force issued its report, the president imposed a moratorium on releasing any cleared Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo, after it was discovered that a failed […]

  40. As Activists Plan Protest for 9th Anniv. of Guantánamo, Former Gitmo Commander Subpoenaed in Spain over Prisoner Torture + Ending Bush’s big lie on Guantánamo | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] new home. As I explained with regard to the Yemenis, “It’s been a year now since the President announced a moratorium on releasing any prisoner from Guantánamo to Yemen because of the uproar that came about because, […]

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Afghans Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington Bagram British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Force-feeding Guantanamo Hunger strikes Lewisham London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Photos President Obama Reprieve Save Lewisham A&E Shaker Aamer Taliban Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts WikiLeaks Yemenis