Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel has been held at Guantánamo Bay
for more than 11 years. For the past two months, he has been on a hunger
strike, which he described
in the editorial pages of the New York Times
I could have been home years ago -- no one seriously thinks
I am a threat -- but still I am here....
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama
refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human
being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.
I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and
Yemen's president do something, that is what I risk every day.
Where is my government? I will submit to any "security
measures" they want in order to go home, even though they are totally
I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free.
It's true that, as of his last publicly available assessment,
dated March 4, 2008, Joint Task Force Guantánamo considered Moqbel a low security
threat and a medium intelligence asset. In recent months, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi has pressed for the release of Guantánamo's 90 Yemeni detainees (more than half of the prison's 166 inmates), calling the imprisonment "clear-cut tyranny." He has demanded that the United States return the detainees to Yemen and blocked efforts to repatriate them to third-party countries. "The United States is fond of talking democracy and human rights," he told Russia Today's Arabic station, "but when we were discussing ther prisoner issue with the American attorney general, he had nothing to say." Still, it's unlikely that Moqbel will be
allowed to return to Yemen anytime soon, for reasons that have less to do with Moqbel and
more to do with events half a world away.
The United States has tried remanding Guantánamo detainees
to Gulf states before, with disastrous results. Beginning in 2006, the United
States began passing detainees to the Prince Muhammad bin Nayef Center for Care
and Counseling, a government-sponsored rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia. Despite
months of reeducation and offers of wives and homes in Saudi Arabia, 11
former Guantánamo prisoners who participated in the program went on to join al Qaeda
in the Arabian Peninsula. Among them was Said al-Shihri, the organization's resilient
second-in-command, who recruited graduates of the program to follow him to
Yemen's domestic attempt at a rehabilitation program, which
was undertaken in late 2002 with jihadists arrested in Yemen and held in Yemeni
prisons, lacked the resources of the Saudi program. Over the next several
years, hundreds of prisoners were released, many of whom then traveled to Iraq
to join Sunni extremist groups fighting the U.S. occupation. Over time, "the
program evolved into a sort of tacit nonaggression pact between the government
and the militants," Princeton scholar Gregory Johnsen explains in
his book, The
Last Refuge. "Prisoners no longer had to disavow violent jihad; they only
had to agree not to carry out attacks in Yemen. The state struck a dangerous
compromise: don't attack us and we won't attack you." The program finally fell
apart in late 2005.
Since then, the country has been plagued by jailbreaks. The
February 2006 escape of 23 individuals -- including Nasir al-Wuhayshi, now
emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Qassim al-Raymi, who would
become his military commander -- heralded the return of al Qaeda in Yemen. These prison breaks
with alarming frequency since.
There have been occasional proposals to restart a rehabilitation
program in Yemen, but the most persistent advocate for such a program hasn't much
helped matters. That would be Abd'
al-Majid al-Zindani, whose strange clerical stylings have become a bizarre
and uniquely Yemeni institution. An investigation into his ties to the bombers of
the USS Cole and role in facilitating
jihadists' travel to Afghanistan earned him a "specially designated global
terrorist" label from the U.S. Treasury, and the Salafist clerical school he
University, has produced such famous alumni as Anwar al-Awlaki and John Walker Lindh
-- making him a less-than-ideal candidate to reform militants.
In the meantime, the country has other pressing matters: the
National Dialogue, which aims to resolve the many political grievances of the
country's tribal, religious, and geographic factions while producing a
constitutional referendum and elections; a continuing threat from al Qaeda in
the Arabian Peninsula and its local affiliates, which occupied wide swaths of
several Yemeni provinces in 2012; a demographic crisis; a water crisis; an oil
crisis. Building the capacity to accept U.S.-held detainees, in other words, has not been a
priority. And without a program to accept and reintegrate detainees into
daily life in Yemen, the remaining low-risk individuals at Guantánamo will
remain in legal limbo.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images