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News of package bombs shipped out of Yemen may have consequences, not for the intended targets but for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. As we heard yesterday, the plot is linked to an al-Qaida group whose key members were in custody in the past, which does not help Yemenis in custody now.
NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON: The future had already been looking pretty grim for a group of detainees from Yemen. Dozens of the men had been approved to go back home or to third countries. Then last Christmas, investigators traced the underwear bombing plot to an al-Qaida group in Yemen, and the White House suspended plans to send them back to the worsening security situation there. Now with the discovery that explosives have been mailed from Yemen's capital, there are two strikes against the detainees.
David Remes is a human rights lawyer who happened to be in Yemen, visiting clients when the news broke.
Mr. DAVID REMES (Attorney): I don't think that President Obama is going to return the Yemenis to Yemen until it's politically feasible for him to do so. And frankly, I'm not sure when that will ever be.
JOHNSON: Remes says the security situation in Yemen and the politics in the U.S. are creating a cruel irony. Consider this. On Sunday, a military judge sentenced a young Canadian detainee to serve one more year at Guantanamo after he pleaded guilty to war crimes, including killing a U.S. soldier on the battlefield. So a detainee who's pleaded guilty could go home to Canada next year; while the men from Yemen who have been cleared for release remain stuck in limbo.
Mr. REMES: It's a terrible irony, that these men who have been through criminal proceedings are getting out before the men who have not been accused at all.
JOHNSON: What to do about the 57 men from Yemen? Some of the proposals on the table, including one by South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, would make sure that detainees held for long periods of time receive regular reviews from a court. But Graham's bill has gone nowhere, as he noted in a speech in September to the American Enterprise Institute. No matter how you look at it, Graham says, the politics are next to impossible.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Congress has been AWOL. Democrats are scared to death to talk about this, and most Republicans just demagogue. Other than that, things are going great.
JOHNSON: For now, the Obama administration is relying on its legal authority under a 2001 act of Congress, to hold detainees from Yemen and other countries for long periods of time without criminal charges or trials.
Columbia University law professor Matthew Waxman says so far, the courts have mostly agreed with that approach. But, we're getting farther away from the September 11th attacks and the congressional authorization to use force.
Professor MATTHEW WAXMAN (National Security/International Law, Columbia University): One important open question is for how long does the executive branch feel confident it can rely on that authority, and for how long will courts continue to uphold the executive branch's authority in relying on that?
JOHNSON: Left-leaning groups don't want Congress to pass a law on indefinite detention, because they object to the idea someone can be held for long periods without a trial. And many conservatives think the laws of war already cover these situations. So, they say, there's no need for Congress to weigh in. That leaves the Obama White House and the fate of the 57 Yemenis stuck in the middle.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.