The ACLU has called on the administration to appoint a senior White House official to direct its closure policy, rather than leave it to the Pentagon, and has called on Obama to order Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to start enacting the final release step for detainees who have been cleared for transfer.
Though Obama hasnt named a White House point person, the ACLU said Wednesday that it appears the Defense Department has been urged to speed up the transfer process.
Obamas comments appeared to jumpstart a transfer discussion process that shouldve begun two years ago, and now the White House needs to make sure this actually happens, said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU. Theyve been told they need to start moving.
Repatriating Yemenis is likely to be a key part of any Guantánamo movement. Of the 166 men held at Guantánamo, at least 84 are Yemenis. Of those, the State Department said Wednesday, 26 are currently approved for transfer. Another 30 could be eligible, the State Department said, if the Yemeni government takes appropriate measures to reduce the risks associated with their return.
Obama ordered a halt to repatriations to Yemen after the 2009 Christmas Day attempt to bomb an aircraft as it was landing in Detroit after a flight from Amsterdam.
The would-be bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, who had hidden plastic explosives in his underwear, told U.S. investigators that he had been recruited for the mission in Yemen by U.S.-born al Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki was subsequently killed by a U.S. drone strike.
Carney told reporters that the administration was obviously evaluating this and other aspects of the situation in Guantánamo. But, he added, That is our policy. The moratorium remains in place.
Yemeni officials have called on the administration to return the Yemenis being held at Guantánamo to their homeland. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and had initially supported the block on Yemen, last week urged the administration to revisit the decision and determine whether Yemens new government, with appropriate assistance, would be able to securely hold detainees in Sanaa, the countrys capital.
Feinstein, who was traveling Wednesday and couldnt be reached for comment, also has called on the administration to fill the State Department vacancy.
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy, said that work on resettling Guantánamo detainees continued even after the department reassigned Fried to be the departments coordinator for sanctions policy. The official said that a small number of staff members still work solely on Guantánamo issues, pulling experts as needed from other departments for a broader enterprise.
We have remained engaged, even since Ambassador Frieds reassignment, and that includes reaching out to governments both from Washington and our posts abroad, the official said.
The official said that Obamas renewed focus on the prison, however, could lead to a more robust operation and soon.
There is high-level attention to this issue and, given that focus, it would be reasonable to assume someone would be put in the position in the very near future, the official said. The official noted that during Frieds tenure, 71 detainees were transferred to 28 destinations, including 42 detainees who were moved to third-party countries.
But repatriation to Yemen remains difficult because of the countrys unstable security environment, the official said. The U.S. government does recognize and is encouraged by the progress thats been made by Yemen to address its security situation, the official said.
Were continually reviewing it, the official said, referring to the moratorium.
Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald contributed to this report.