A further 12 prisoners were moved over the weekend from the detention facility run by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to their respective home countries of Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.
Four of the men the U.S. Justice Department confirmed on Sunday had been transferred returned to Afghanistan, a further six were sent to Yemen - of the 198 men who remain in Guantanamo, having been detained on suspicion of terrorist activities, 91 are from the country on the Arabian peninsula where the government are at present fighting against al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda affiliated groups - and two are now back in Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia.
The fact that nearly 200 prisoners remain in the detention facility on the Southeast coast of Cuba means that the pledge made by President Obama shortly after taking office in January, to close by January 22 2010 the facility at Guantanamo that was opened by the administration of his predecessor George W. Bush in 2002, will not be met, something the President has acknowledged to be the case.
As the Earth Times reports, last week the White House confirmed that a state prison in Illinois was being purchased with a view to it housing those currently in Guantanamo Bay, but the number of prisoners set to be transferred to the American Mid-West is said to be "limited".
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has identified 116 of the remaining detainees as suitable for transfer to either their home countries or other countries willing to take them. An unspecified number of detainees are at some stage likely to find themselves on trial in either a U.S. criminal court or military court.
The senior Republican on the House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee for the Justice Department is Frank Wolf of Virginia and he is unhappy at the return of the detainees to countries where al-Qaeda is thought or known to have a presence. Yemen seems to be of particular concern at the moment and earlier on Sunday Digital Journal reported on how 49 civilians were recently killed when Yemeni government forces launched air raids against al-Qaeda fighters operating in the Al-Mahfed region in Southern Yemen.
Mr Wolf is quoted by Reuters as saying of the prisoner transfers over the weekend:It's a very bad decision by the Obama administration and by the Justice Department. I think it endangers our national security and endangers our citizens
However Yemen has welcomed the decision to return six of its citizens and a statement was released by the Yemeni embassy in Washington regarding the matter.
According to AFP the statement read as follows: The Embassy of the Republic of Yemen hails the release and transfer of six of its citizens from Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. Yemen will continue its diplomatic dialogue with the United States Government to repatriate the remaining Yemeni detainees. President (Barack) Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility is an astute reflection of the prudent National Security and Foreign Policy position of the U.S. administrationReuters confirms that 14 prisoners were moved from Guantanamo to Yemen when George W. Bush was still in the White House.
Meanwhile Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, has explained that were there any concerns in respect of security the transfers would not have taken place.
With regard to Somaliland, which has not witnessed anywhere near the same level of chaos as Somalia proper, the international community apparently still considers the autonomous region to which two men were moved at the weekend a part of Somalia, Frank Wolf has warned that it would be relatively easy for the former Guantanamo detainees to make their way to the areas where al-Qaeda or its associates are based, if that is indeed their wish.
One group in Somalia with alleged links to al-Qaeda is al-Shabaab, an organization which earlier in the year was reportedly in control of a large area of Southern Somalia.
After the prisoner movements at the weekend the total number of detainees transferred out of Guantanamo stands at 560.
The Earth Times provides details of the prisoners' names and the countries/region to which they were returned:
Afghanistan - Abdul Hafiz, Sharifullah, Mohamed Rahim and Mohammed Hashim
Somaliland - Mohammed Soliman Barre and Ismael Arale
Yemen - Jamal Muhammad Alawi Mari, Farouq Ali Ahmed, Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi, Muhammaed Yasir Ahmed Taher, Fayad Yahya Ahmed al Rami and Riyad Atiq Ali Abdu al Haf