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Middle East
Yemen weighs rehabilitation issue
US concerned about sending Guantanamo inmates back to country it sees as al-Qaeda stronghold.
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2009 00:07

Yemen is struggling with the possible release of the largest group of detainees at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The release of more than 90 Yemenis still being held at the facility may be delayed due to US fears that Yemen does not have the capacity to ensure the men will not rejoin al-Qaeda.

The US has cautioned that if Yemen does not build a rehabilitation centre where former detainees can be coached to abandon all forms of radical ideology, it will transfer the men to Saudi Arabia, something Yemen strongly disagrees with.

The biggest worry for the US, Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra says, is that Yemen cannot control detainees once they are released.

Washington believes Yemen has become al-Qaeda's stronghold in the region, and even suspects the government in Sanaa is cutting deals with the group.

Barack Obama, the US president, pledged in his first executive order last January to close the infamous prison within a year's time.

However, the deadline is not likely to be met as his administration is still struggling to try the alleged terrorists and to transfer them out in advance of the promised deadline.

Radical ideas

Hamoud al-Hitar, Yemen's minister of religious affairs, told Al Jazeera that 95 per cent of those arrested by Yemeni authorities had been persuaded to renounce their radical ideas.

But Salih Mohammad Ali, who was released three years ago after a five-year detention in Guantanamo without charge, says he is still finding it difficult to assimilate back into society.

"The government didn't even bother to ask about my well-being," he said.

"I need heart surgery but despite promises nothing happened. I feel I am a stranger in this country. The way some people look at me with suspicion still hurts me."

In depth

 Riz Khan: Can Yemen regain stability?
 The peacemaker
 Focus on Yemen's future  Inside Guantanamo Bay
 Timeline: Guantanamo Bay prison

Mohammad al-Qadhi, a Yemeni journalist, told Al Jazeera that Sanaa had no option but to defer to any US decision.

"Many of the people who pledged not to carry out attacks in Yemen and to respect law and order, were later found guilty of carrying out terrorist activities either here in Yemen, or of going abroad to Iraq and other countries to fight there," he said.

"The Yemeni authorities have plans to set up a rehabilitation centre but they don't have the financial resources. They were expecting support from donors, mainly the Americans, but [this hasn't happened]."

Al-Qadhi said the idea of rehabilitation has been "perverted" by the Yemeni government.

"It is concentrating on propaganda rather than [on creating] a strategic vision of how dialogue can be conducted with these extremists," he said.

"This [approach] has to change."

Views unchanged

Nasr al-Bahri, a former bodyguard of al-Qaeda's leader, Osama Bin Laden, was rehabilitated in the world's first al-Qaeda fighters' rehabilitation programme in Yemen, but his views on US policies in the region did not change.

"Rehabilitation should not be imposed by the Americans because they don't know our culture and religion," he said.

"The US wants to impose its standards. We have to let them know that we are capable of doing the work on our own."

Caught in the middle of this dispute between Washington and the Yemeni government are the families of the detainees.

"My brother asked if our government is doing its best to secure our release," Abderrahman al-Hila says of his brother who is an inmate in Guantanamo.

"I told him they might be transferred to Saudi Arabia over the issue of rehabilitation. He really sounded very upset and down.

"He said they don't want rehabilitation simply because they don't pose a threat to anybody in the world."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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