Yemen weighs rehabilitation issue

Yemen is struggling with the possible release of the largest group of detainees at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The release of more than 90 Yemenis still being held at the facility may be delayed due to US fears that Yemen does not have the capacity to ensure the men will not rejoin al-Qaeda.

The US has cautioned that if Yemen does not build a rehabilitation centre where former detainees can be coached to abandon all forms of radical ideology, it will transfer the men to Saudi Arabia, something Yemen strongly disagrees with.

Hamoud al Hitar, Yemen’s minister of religious affairs, told Al Jazeera that 95 per cent of those arrested by Yemeni authorities had been persuaded to renounce their radical ideas.

But Salih Mohammad Ali, who was released three years ago after a five-year detention in Guantanamo without charge, says he is still finding it difficult to assimilate back into society.

“The government didn’t even bother to ask about my well-being,” he said.

“I need heart surgery but despite promises nothing happened. I feel I am a stranger in this country. The way some people look at me with suspicion still hurts me.”

US worry

The biggest worry for the US, reports Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, is that Yemen cannot control detainees once they are released.

Washington believes Yemen has become al-Qaedas stronghold in the region, and even suspects the government in Sanaa of cutting deals with the group.

Nasr al-Bahri, a former bodyguard of al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden, was rehabilitated in the world’s first al-Qaeda fighters’ rehabilitation programme in Yemen, but his views on US policies in the region did not change.

“Rehabilitation should not be imposed by the Americans because they don’t know our culture and religion,” he said.

“The US wants to impose its standards. We have to let them know that we are capable of doing the work on our own.”

Families suffering

Caught in the middle of this fight between Washington and the Yemeni government are the families of the detainees.

“My brother asked if our government is doing its best to secure our release,” Abderrahman al-Hila says of his brother who is an inmate in Guantanamo.

“I told him they might be transferred to Saudi Arabia over the issue of rehabilitation. He really sounded very upset and down.

“He said they don’t want rehabilitation simply because they don’t pose a threat to anybody in the world.”

Barack Obama, the US president, pledged in his first executive order last January to close the infamous prison within a year’s time.

However, the deadline will not be met as the US administration is still struggling to try the accused terrorists and to transfer them out in advance of the promised deadline.