This week, the Senate takes up a White House-backed defense authorization bill that would reduce the restrictions on repatriating Yemeni nationals held in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. These changes are long overdue. Many of these detainees are eligible for transfer, which would be a significant step in closing Gitmo.
However, to minimize the significant risk of them joining Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and engaging in terrorism, the U.S. should first establish a rehabilitation center for them in Yemen, based on a Saudi Arabia model, with a rigorous post-release monitoring program. Other alternatives, including continued indefinite detention, repatriation without a rehabilitation program or resettlement in third countries, carry higher diplomatic and security risks.
Hundreds of Gitmo detainees have been transferred or released since 2002, but it has not been without cost. More than 25% were later confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. There are 164 detainees at Gitmo, including 30 Yemenis in conditional detention. These individuals are not facing prosecution, but they cannot be transferred until the security situation in Yemen improves, or third-country resettlement options are found, or an appropriate rehabilitation program becomes available. These detainees are not, as some politicians describe them, "the worst of the worst." They are not high-value detainees, nor is there a basis to hold them as enemy combatants.