(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration says it is "in a war against al Qaeda." But at the same time, it is trying to release 54 more Gitmo detainees, 47 of them from Yemen, which is one of the "dark corners" where al Qaeda operates.
"We say we're in a war against al Qaeda," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "We have just never said we have been in a war against terrorism, which is a tactic...We are, however, at war against al Qaeda, its manifestations in Yemen, its manifestations in South Asia, its manifestations in East Africa, North Africa."
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," McDonough said, "al Qaeda, you know, hides in dark corners and tries to make sure that they're operating in places where they're not going to be pursued. That means that a lot of the places that they spring up and where they try to operate are places like Yemen or Somalia or North Africa, where the security forces are underdeveloped, where the political situation is volatile."
Although Yemen is an al-Qaeda stronghold, the Obama administration is determined to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which currently holds 122 terror suspects, many of them Yemenis with links to al Qaeda.
Until his resignation last month, Cliff Sloan was the Obama administration's special envoy in charge of closing Gitmo.
On Sunday, Sloan told ABC's "This Week" that 54 Gitmo detainees are currently approved for transfer. "Of the 54 who are approved for transfer, 47 of them are from Yemen," Sloan said. "They need to be resettled to other countries; we've been doing that -- recently resettled 12 Yemenis in other countries."
Sloan said "no," the "resettled" prisoners are "not going back to Yemen. They're going to go to other countries. And there's been very strong support from a wide range of groups and individuals, including the pope in the last week came out with a very strong statement, calling on countries to accept these individuals for resettlement as a humanitarian gesture."
The goal, Sloan said, is to reduce the Gitmo population "to a very small core," then "work with Congress to remove this irrational bent" against moving the remaining Gitmo prisoners to "super secure facilities in the United States."
Sloan explained that Gitmo prisoners must be unanimously approved by six federal departments and agencies before they can be transferred to other countries. "And that process has stood the test of time," he insisted. "It's been a very accurate process. So a very high priority is moving those 54 who are now approved for transfer."
Sloan said even those Gitmo detainees who are not approved for transfer have a new option:
"But what's very important is, there's also a new process for those who were not approved for transfer, where he'll get a full hearing, so where he can fully participate and show that incarceration is not warranted because he doesn't present a significant security threat."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is an outspoken opponent of President Obama's plan to transfer Gitmo detainees to other countries.
"The war on terror has reached a lethal phase, and it is insane to be letting these people out of Gitmo to go back to the fight," he told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren on Jan. 14, the same day the Obama administration released five Yemenis from Gitmo, all men with links to al-Qaeda. Four were sent to Oman and one to Estonia.
"I believe the war has hit a point where we need to keep these guys in jail, at least for a couple years, until we can get a grip on what's going on throughout the world, particularly Iraq and Syria," Graham said. "Iraq and Syria are great platforms for radical Islamists to attack this county. And the president's going send them some reinforcements by letting people out of Gitmo. That makes no sense," Graham said.
On Monday, one day after Sloan spoke to ABC, a U.S. drone strike killed three suspected al Qaeda fighters in Yemen.