Yemen: The Next Front?

yemen4.jpgThis morning’s report that the U.S. military has decided to transfer Salim Hamdan to his home country of Yemen provides an opportunity to examine the way in which several failures of the Bush administration have combined to create a huge potential challenge for the next administration.

Back in August, a military tribunal in Guantanamo found Hamdan guilty of providing material support for terrorism, a crime he had never denied. Hamdan had been Osama bin Laden’s driver, and was picked up in Afghanistan in 2001, and thrown in Gitmo.

Hamdan “is expected to arrive within 48 hours in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, where he will serve out the rest of his military commission sentence, which is set to expire Dec. 27, two government officials said.”

Hamdan’s release will be a preliminary test of Yemen’s ability to follow through on detainee transfers and continued custody, as the United States has questioned the Yemeni government’s ability to enforce such agreements. Yemen is working to set up a rehabilitation program for released terrorism suspects, similar to one in Saudi Arabia.

Last week the Post reported that “despite intensive diplomatic discussions in recent months, and the Yemeni government’s promise to put released prisoners through a rehabilitation program, the Bush administration remains unconvinced that the impoverished Arab nation is capable of absorbing a group of men that officials believe includes hardened extremists.”

In 2006, twenty-three Al Qaeda detainees escaped from Yemeni custody, including the mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, Jamal al-Badawi.

Yemenis make up some 40% of detainees at Guantanamo. In a recent speech, CIA Director Michael Hayden stated that Yemen is among the countries — along with Algeria and Somalia — where Al Qaeda is a growing threat. Gates said that “North Africa, East Africa, Yemen serve as kind of a counterweight to the good news out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere,” where Al Qaeda is in decline.

Yemeni Al Qaeda is believed to have carried out the September 17 attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa. A Yemeni security official also reported that three of the six attackers had recently returned from Iraq.

So follow this: After 9/11, the Bush administration declared a global war on terror, and asserted the right to detain prisoners in that war indefinitely, which continues to be a source of global outrage. Then the Bush administration invaded Iraq, which served both as a recruiting mechanism and a training ground for scores of newly radicalized young extremists. Although the Bush administration has gradually been forced to admit that many of the “worst of the worst” that were supposedly locked up in Gitmo were nothing of the sort, it’s highly likely that many of these detainees have been radicalized by their detention, and now represent potential pool of recruits for extremist networks in their home countries.

Just something to keep in mind whenever you hear someone talking about the Bush administration’s “successes” in the war on terror.