Obama Pretends to Get Tough on Yemen

Obama Pretends to Get Tough on Yemen … after a year of neglect.
by Stephen F. Hayes
01/02/2010 12:00:00 AM

Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director, took to the official White House blog Wednesday to post a response to critics of Barack Obama and his handling of counterterrorism. Pfeiffer believes that the intelligence failure that led to the failed bombing on Christmas day — nearly a year into Obama’s presidency — can be blamed on a war launched almost seven years ago in Iraq. The banality of his claim is surpassed only by its absurdity.

What’s more interesting is Pfeiffer’s claim that his boss has finally refocused U.S. counterterrorism on its proper targets in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Pfeiffer mentions Yemen twice. That’s not a surprise considering the rise to prominence of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, both based in Yemen. Awlaki, a senior al Qaeda cleric and recruiter, has offered guidance (at least) to Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Flight 253 bomber. And Abdulmutallab reportedly had extensive training and support from AQAP. As a result, Yemen — a nation unfamiliar to most Americans — has been on our front pages and leading our broadcasts in the past few weeks. So Pfeiffer wants everyone to know that Obama, in his “war against al Qaeda,” has been busy building “partnerships” to target terrorist safe-havens in, among other places, Yemen.

To coin a phrase: What a difference a year makes.

On January 22, 2009, Obama signed an executive order requiring the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within twelve months. To near universal praise, Obama claimed his action would allow America once again to occupy the “moral high ground” and to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism.”

On the same day that Obama made his announcement, the State Department website http://www.America.gov published an interview with US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche. No other country would be as important to closing Guantanamo Bay as Yemen. Some 100 of the 248 detainees there at the end of the Bush administration were Yemenis. And, with only a few exceptions, those that remained at the facility remained there for a reason. They were seasoned jihadists and they were extremely dangerous.

That fact made Seche’s comments notable. He said that it was the goal of the new administration to repatriate a “majority” of the Yemenis at Gitmo. And not just send them to their native country to be detained, but so that they could “make a future for themselves here.”

“Certainly we would like to be able to bring them back to Yemen and have them integrate themselves back into their own society with their families,” said Seche. Although he acknowledged some “inherent risks” in returning the detainees to the general population, Seche suggested that only a few of the detainees present real problems. “Except in the case perhaps of some very hardcore elements, we believe that the majority of these detainees can be put productively into a reintegration program with the goal over time of enabling them to find a way back into Yemeni society without posing a security risk.”

The statement was shocking. More than a dozen of the Yemenis held at Guantanamo Bay at the time were alleged by the US government to have been personal bodyguards for Osama bin Laden. Many of the other Yemenis at Gitmo had been trained at al Qaeda training camps (74 percent) or stayed at al Qaeda guesthouses (74 percent). Others had been captured fighting Americans or alongside senior al Qaeda figures — 15 of them captured in raids that netted top al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh. Still others had admitted their terrorist involvement without coercion and in open hearings — sometimes accompanying their confessions with threats to one day kill again.

And yet the Obama administration believed that a “majority” of these detainees could be freed in Yemen — a well-known hotbed of al Qaeda activity?

When we first read Seche’s words nearly a year ago, we assumed he was off-message — that he had been stricken with a severe case of “clientitis,” in which the foreign service officer forgets that he represents the interests of the United States and not those of the country in which he is serving. So we sent his words to the spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, assuming, frankly, that we would get a reply distancing the new top diplomat from what seemed to be a radical policy.

That did not happen:

Ambassador Seche’s comments that you referred to lay out very well the U.S. government position on the situation of the Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. As he noted, the U.S. government has made clear its decision to close the Guantánamo Bay facility as soon as practicable but no later than one year from January 22, 2009.

Just last week, the Obama administration repatriated six Yemenis who had been held at Gitmo. Among them, Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi, a graduate of al Qaeda’s famous Khalden training camp. Batarfi has been waging jihad since the late 1980s, when he fought the Soviets. Batarfi, an orthopedic surgeon, also stayed at al Qaeda guesthouses, worked for an al Qaeda front group, met with a “Malaysian microbiologist” who was almost certainly the head of al Qaeda’s anthrax program, and spent time with Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. How do we know all of this? Batarfi told us — he chose to volunteer it in his administrative review board hearing.

How can a White House spinmeister like Pfeiffer reconcile releases like this one–the result of the administrations stated goal for the past year–with Obama’s new get-tough policy on Yemen?

He can’t.

Stephen F. Hayes is senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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2 Responses to “Obama Pretends to Get Tough on Yemen”

  1. PATRIOT Says:

    Maybe you prefer the lil Bushie reaction of starting a endless war and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Thank God our genius President doesn’t act before thinking and then chooses the correct course of action.

  2. Wanderant Says:

    Where have “….hundreds of thousands of innocent….” been killed? Not even Obie’s crowd of lefty liars would attempt to make that ridiculous claim.

    The Iraq war has ended. Afghanistan war efforts are into a new surge phase- thanks to Obie. America and the west is fighting soulless and ruthless ghosts on several continents- yep, it is going to take awhile. We are held to a ridiculous standard of political correctness that those bedevilled ghosts need not abide- so, thanks to you and your antiAmerican colleagues, you have set our country up for failure on any war against Islamist terrorists. Too bad that failure will happen on Obie’s watch. The vicious liberal dog (probably a pitbull) is going to attack its’ own master! Now, that is Poetic Justice, PJ – not PC.

    It’ll be the libertarian and conservative crowd that has to come in and clean up another failed liberal/lefty administrations’ national security mess- just as Reagan did after Carter and just like Bush did after Clinton. And, the good vs. evil cycle continues.

    Meanwhile, Obie “Nero” fiddles around with redistribution of hard-working (not welfare recipients) Americans wealth (UnHealth Care, Cap and Rob, etc.) while “Rome” burns. If we have no national security, we have no nation. Don’t you lefty dunces get it?

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