In Yemen, Anger Toward U.S. Grows Over Detainees Washington had approved the release of many of the Yemeni detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. But after a Yemen-based al-Qaida affiliate allegedly tried to bomb a U.S. plane, those releases were put on hold. Now, the delays are stoking anti-American sentiment.
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In Yemen, Anger Toward U.S. Grows Over Detainees

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In Yemen, Anger Toward U.S. Grows Over Detainees

In Yemen, Anger Toward U.S. Grows Over Detainees

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Of the nearly 200 men still being detained at Guantanamo Bay, nearly half are from Yemen. Many had been approved for release until the failed Christmas Day bombing. And then an affiliate of al-Qaida based in Yemen took responsibility. Kelly McEvers reports from Yemen.

KELLY MCEVERS: Abdul Salam al-Hila was captured in Egypt in 2002. His family says he was working for the Yemeni government to help resettle jihadis who'd fought in Afghanistan and ended up in Yemen. In 2004, the Bush administration claimed Hila was a member of al-Qaida. He was transferred to Guantanamo.

Hila's family lives in a tall and narrow house here in the Yemeni capital, San'a. They say that since U.S. President Obama took office and pledged to close Guantanamo, they had some hope they might at least see Hila again, even if he had to face charges in a Yemeni court. That hope disappeared when they heard that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to ignite a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight late last year, after spending time in Yemen.

ABDUL SALAM AL-HILA'S SISTER: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: So a Nigerian man tries to set off a bomb on an American plane, says Hila's sister. And they punish my brother for this? Hila's sister says the family has endured enough trouble already. Last year, Hila's two young sons died when a grenade they were playing with exploded.

ABDUL SALAM AL-HILA'S SISTER: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: His mother died, his father died, his two sons died, and now his uncle has died, Hila's sister says. Do they want us all to be dead before they bring him back home again?

Khaled al-Anisi heads a legal organization that's pressing for the release of the Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo. He says their families' exasperation is turning into anger.

Mr. KHALED AL-ANISI (National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms): Obama give the people hope. And they lived one year with this hope. Now, the people start to think this is not Bush problem or Bush administration mistake. It is the mistake for all American people. For that they become more angry against the Americans. They said - all of them are the same. Democrat people or Republican people all of them are enemy.

MCEVERS: The danger with this anti-American sentiment, Anisi and many others say, is it makes it easier for al-Qaida to recruit new members.

U.S. officials, who didn't want to speak on tape, said they're keenly aware of the dangers of continuing to hold so many Yemenis at Guantanamo. But they say they're concerned that if released, these Yemenis will find their way to the local militant group, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. That's what happened to two Saudis who were released from Guantanamo in 2007.

Of the two dozen Yemenis who've been released so far, most lead normal lives. Two or three are missing. Another one was killed in a U.S.-assisted air strike against alleged al-Qaida hideouts in December.

Letta Tayler researches Yemen for New York-based Human Rights Watch. She says both the U.S. government and the Yemeni governments should work together to find a solution for the remaining detainees.

Ms. LETTA TAYLER (Human Rights Watch): And that solution should be either Yemen repatriating the detainees to Yemen or finding a third country that can host them, and if necessary, either solution would involve placing restrictions on detainees' movements to protect national security.

MCEVERS: The problem, Tayler says, is that Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh lacks the will to pursue such a solution.

Ms. TAYLER: If President Saleh sees the repatriation of Yemenis as a political asset at any given moment, he will advocate for that. If he does not see it as politically expedient at any given moment, he won't. And a lot of the time, he does not see it as politically expedient, he sees it as a headache.

MCEVERS: Last year, Yemen asked the U.S. for tens of millions of dollars to fund a rehabilitation program for Yemenis returning from Guantanamo. That plan never materialized.

But the U.S. has increased military aid to Yemen to help fight al-Qaida. U.S. military and intelligence agencies already provide equipment and information for Yemeni air strikes against alleged al-Qaida targets.

Saleh al-Zuba spent six years at Guantanamo and was released back to Yemen in 2006. He spent a few more months in Yemeni custody, then was freed when a relative vouched for him.

Mr. SALEH AL-ZUBA: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Now, Zuba spends most days at home, watching TV. He says he tried to open a honey store, but the owner wouldn't rent to him because he heard Zuba had been in Guantanamo. Once a month, Zuba has to check in with local security officers.

Mr. ZUBA: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: I don't need a rehabilitation program, Zuba says. Right now, I just need a job.

For NPR News, I'm Kelly McEvers.

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