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US: Ensure Yemenis Not Mistreated After Release

Release Orders Could Be Important Step Toward Closing Guantanamo

(New York) - The Obama administration should ensure that two Yemenis ordered released from Guantanamo by the US Justice Department and a federal court this week do not face further illegal detention or other mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that releasing the two Yemenis from Guantanamo would be an important step towards President Barack Obama's goal of closing the prison.

"The two Yemeni men ordered released are entering their eighth year without charge at Guantanamo," said Letta Tayler, terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of a new report on Guantanamo's Yemeni detainees. "But the administration should ensure that they are not simply moving the detainees from one arbitrary form of detention to another."

On Monday, March 30, the US Justice Department announced it planned to release Yemeni surgeon Aymen Saeed Batarfi. The following day, a US federal judge ordered the release of Yasin Muhammed Basardh, another Yemeni detainee, who has said he informed on other Guantanamo prisoners for US authorities. The Obama administration has not disclosed where it will send the two men.

The two detainees are among the estimated 100 Yemenis at Guantanamo, nearly half the prison's current population. The Yemenis pose one of the biggest obstacles to Obama's pledge to close Guantanamo by January 2010, as documented in the new Human Rights Watch report, "No Direction Home: Returns from Guantanamo to Yemen." The report warns of the need to release detainees swiftly but with a humane repatriation plan.

Basardh has repeatedly asked US officials not to return him to Yemen, where he fears al Qaeda or others might kill him for testifying against other prisoners. The US should take immediate steps to find a third-party country to accept him, where he will not face the risk of retaliation or other abuse.

The other detainee, Batarfi, has close ties to Saudi Arabia, including a Saudi mother, and there are indications he may wish to resettle there. Human Rights Watch urged US authorities not to make Batarfi's release to Saudi Arabia contingent upon his undergoing rehabilitation for an indefinite period in the Saudi's locked-door religious reeducation program for former Guantanamo detainees. If that is the plan, Batarfi should be given a fair opportunity to challenge any requirement that he be detained or otherwise deprived of his liberty as part of the program.

Human Rights Watch called on the US to fund a genuine rehabilitation effort for these men that includes counseling, medical care, and job training.

"Unless authorities in the US or another country have a genuine basis for prosecuting these men, they should be rehabilitated, not jailed," said Tayler. "The best way to ensure released Guantanamo detainees don't pose a threat is to help them reintegrate into society and repair their lives."

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