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US Rights Groups Criticize Obama Suspension of Guantanamo Repatriations

U.S. human rights groups have criticized President Barack Obama's decision to halt the transfer of detainees to Yemen from a U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Obama suspended the repatriation of Yemeni detainees Tuesday because of what he called an "unsettled" security situation in Yemen. Some U.S. lawmakers had expressed concern that freed inmates could join Yemen-based al-Qaida militants plotting attacks on the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union says U.S. authorities had cleared the release of about 35 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo. The group says it is "unwise and unjust" for the U.S. military to keep detaining them "simply because they come from a certain country," as the group puts it.

Human Rights Watch says it appreciates that Yemen poses a "very difficult problem" for the Obama administration. But, it says continuing to hold Yemenis at Guantanamo without charge "only increases resentment against the United States and hands al-Qaida a recruiting tool."

U.S. authorities transferred six Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to Yemen last month. Days later, al-Qaida militants in Yemen claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, December 25.

Mr. Obama reiterated a pledge Tuesday to shut down the Guantanamo prison, saying its existence helps al-Qaida to recruit members and damages U.S. national security interests. Mr. Obama had said one year ago that he wanted to close the prison by this month.

Guantanamo currently holds 198 prisoners, about half of them from Yemen.

Separately Tuesday, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that the government has broad powers to hold detainees, making it more difficult for Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their confinement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the continued detention of Yemeni national Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani.  The former cook for Taliban forces denies taking up arms against the United States after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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