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Yemenis Comprise Half of Prisoners Held at Guantanamo Bay

President Barack Obama this week announced the suspenion of future transfers of prisoners to Yemen from a U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Nigerian man accused of trying to bomb a U.S. airliner December 25 reportedly was trained in Yemen.

U.S. officials say at least two of the prisoners once held here at Guantanamo Bay are now leading al-Qaida efforts in Yemen. About 90 detainees, nearly half of those remaining, are from Yemen.

But after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, allegedly by a man trained in Yemen, the U.S. is reconsidering its release policy. President Obama says America will suspend future detainee transfers to Yemen. Republican Senator John McCain, on a visit to Iraq, applauded the president's actions. "Others who have left Guantanamo and gone to Yemen have not only gone back to the fight, but have also been suicide bombers and leaders. This has got to stop," McCain said.

The move complicates the president's timetable to close the prison by January 22. But he claims it won't affect the goal. "Make no mistake, we will close Guantanamo prison," he said.

"Now Obama is sailing into a very strong head wind politically." said Peter Beinart of the New American Foundation who says the president's move assures him public support, but at the prisoners' expense.

"Whenever people become more afraid, there's an attack or a threatened attack and lots of people were fanning fear on TV, the balance between civil liberties and security shifts away from civil liberties, particularly when it's not the civil liberties of Americans, but of non- Americans who most Americans don't identify with," Beinart said. He recommends sending the remaining Guantanamo detainees to maximum security prisons in America, rather than returning them to their countries.

James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation warns a return of prisoners to their homelands would require more work. "It has to be much more close supervision of them once they are released," he said.

But right now, the U.S. has little confidence that Yemen can offer that type of supervision, with the president calling the country unsettled. Yemen is rocked by civil war in the north and possible succession in the south. Detainee tracking would add to the list of obstacles the country faces.