Yemen, Which Allowed al Qaeda Suspects to Escape, Wants Custody of 101 Gitmo Detainees

By Penny Starr | January 26, 2009 | 6:31 PM EST

U.S. Military personnel escort a detainee at Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. (AP Photo)

( – President Barack Obama’s plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will include the trial or release of the 250 detainees still held there, but the Yemen government has said 101 of those prisoners should be sent home.
“We want our detainees back,” Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C., told, adding that “a plot of land” has already been set aside for a center to rehabilitate the men once they are repatriated.
Albasha said the rehabilitation program will include psychological counseling, religious dialogue, vocational training and arranged marriages.
“By the time they leave the center they can have their careers,” Albasha said. “They can have their families.”
Four of the 101 Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo, or Gitmo, have been convicted or charged with war crimes for participation in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
But Albasha claims that most of those being held are not dangerous.
“The majority of them, they didn’t find blood on their hands,” Albasha said. “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and this makes it possible for them to be rehabilitated.
“These people are brainwashed,” he said. “You have to attempt to change them.”
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, however, claims that an earlier rehabilitation program in Yemen failed, with some of the more than 300 participants returning to the battlefield.
Among them were three of the seven men who took part in the bombing of a U.S. Embassy in the Yemen city of Sana in September that killed 11 people, including one American.
In January 2007, suspected al Qaeda operatives killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis at the Belquis Temple in Marib, and two Belgians died when a tourist convoy was attacked in the eastern Hadramout Governorate, according to the U.S. State Department.
In February 2006, 23 al Qaeda suspects escaped from a Sana prison, with three remaining at large – and the Yemeni port city of Aden was the site of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American troops.
Albasha said he thinks the Yemeni government’s crack down on al Qaeda and other militant groups has caused retaliation and increased violence, but he said rehabilitating the Gitmo detainees who are returned to Yemen is a part of the country’s long-term strategy to fight terrorism.
“We hope to change their idealism and assimilate them back into society – and why not?” Albasha said. “Give us a chance.”