The New York Times has just posted a story on Yemen and the difficulties of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Those who read this blog know how I feel about the oft-repeated argument that Yemen doesn’t actually want these guys back.
Here is the portion from the article:
President Saleh has publicly demanded the return of the detainees. But Joanne Mariner, director of Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism program, said that after meeting top Yemeni officials, it appeared that the Saleh government seemed to see them as a potential security and financial problems.
“Politically they need to give the impression that they’re fighting to get their people back,” she said, but added that it was not clear the Yemeni officials were working to meet any American requirements.
One senior Yemeni official, she said, seemed to suggest that Yemen would require a huge payment from the American government to resettle the detainees. A proper rehabilitation program, the official claimed, could cost as much as $1 million for each detainee, totaling perhaps $100 million.
I don’t know Joanne Mariner, but I have doubts about her understanding of what Yemeni officials want, particularly given the relative short amount of time Human Rights Watch spent in the country. This is nothing against their reports, just that Yemen is a complex place that is difficult to grasp in weeks of study let alone years.
I think a more accurate understanding might be that Yemeni officials – read President Salih – want the detainees back, but because of the way the Obama administration has handled the closing of Guantanamo, it feels it can shake down the US for more money. The way the Obama administration publicly announced it intention to close Guantanamo may have been good domestic politics, but it did have repercussions internationally. Most obviously, in this case, Yemen believes it has leverage against the US.
Don’t forget the pressure Salih came under for his inability to get Shaykh al-Mu’ayyad back from the US. For my money, the people who say that Yemen does not want the Yemeni detainees back are grossly misreading the situation in Yemen.