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President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20500

RE: Repatriation of Guantanamo Detainees to Yemen

Dear President Obama:

We write to urge you to expedite the repatriation of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay to their home country of Yemen.

Five years ago, on your second full day in office, you pledged to close the Guantanamo detention center, and in your State of the Union address this year you reaffirmed that pledge. The return of Yemeni detainees to Yemen is an essential component of any plan to close the detention facility.

As you know, of the 76 individuals your administration has recommended for transfer from Guantanamo, 56 are citizens of Yemen. These include Mahmud Abd Al Aziz Al Mujahid, the first detainee whose status was reviewed by the new Periodic Review Board on November 25, 2013 (the remaining 55 were recommended for transfer by your interagency task force in 2010). One reason so many Yemenis remain at Guantanamo is that in January 2010 you imposed a moratorium on transfers to Yemen after the arrest of the “Christmas Day bomber,” who had trained in Yemen.  We were pleased that last year you lifted that moratorium, and that your administration successfully urged Congress to alter conditions it had previously imposed on transfers of detainees, resulting in significant changes to the law in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. Yet no detainee has been returned to Yemen since 2009.

We recognize that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses a security threat in Yemen. But the detainees in Guantanamo who have been recommended for transfer pose no greater threat than many other people at large in Yemen. Speculative concern that these men could join militant groups in the future, as so many others in Yemen might do by comparable speculation, is no reason to keep them detained without charge or trial. The continued detention of people based solely on their country of origin runs counter to US values and sets a dangerous example for other countries.

Prolonged indefinite detention without charge or trial violates international human rights law. We have long urged the United States either to prosecute detainees in fair trials that comport with international due process standards, or to release them. The continued detention of those recommended for transfer by your administration more than four years ago is particularly troublesome.

We urge you to commence the repatriation of Yemenis as soon as possible; to transfer to US federal court any detainee against whom there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct; and to continue repatriation or resettlement, as appropriate, of the rest.


Kenneth Roth
Human Rights Watch
Executive Director


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