Republican leaders on Wednesday, seizing on the claim that ex-Guantanamo detainees were linked to the foiled Christmas Day terror attack, called on the White House to stop sending captives home to Yemen from the detention center in southeast Cuba.
"The terrorist plot to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 exposed a near-catastrophic failure at every level of our government,'' said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio.
"We know the decision to close this prison has not stopped al Qaeda from plotting attacks on Americans, turning these terrorists over to other countries is not working, and we shouldn't import them into the United States,'' he added. "It's time for the president to halt terrorist transfers to other countries, including Yemen, and to reevaluate his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo.''
Boehner's remarks came on the heels of a written appeal to President Barack Obama from three leading leading senators -- John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. -- to suspend any planned releases of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.
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The White House had no response beyond a day-old broad defense of its overall Guantanamo strategy. But the military said Wednesday that it was continuing to prepare for future transfers.
"We've received no orders, no change in mission,'' said Navy Cmdr. Brook DeWalt from Guantánamo. ``If and when we do, we will certainly act accordingly. But today there has been no change to the mission at Joint Task Force Guantánamo.''
The Bush administration transferred more than 500 detainees from Guantanamo, in contrast to 44 during Obama's first year.
Across the years, the transfers were done as secret operations with disclosure made once the captives were released to another government and the U.S. military aircraft and forces gone from the drop-off nation.
The administration last released a dozen detainees on Dec. 18 -- six to Yemen, four to Afghanistan, and two to Somaliland -- to shrink the prison camps census to 198 men from 28 countries.
White House officials have been defending the Obama administration's review-and-release policies since ABC News reported that two Saudis sent home in 2007 may have helped Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hatch the plot to blow up the aircraft with explosives hidden in his underpants.
It was clear Wednesday that the process had left the senators confused.
The senators' two-page letter, dated Tuesday, asked the White House to stop the transfer of the six Yemenis who'd been sent home Dec. 18.
Under current law, the State Department must file classified notices with Congress 15 days before a transfer takes place, explaining where each captive would be going and stating that an assessment of the risk involved in releasing him had been undertake. Those required notices had been filed in early December.
McCain's spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said Wednesday that while the six transfers had already gone through, and intelligence committees were notified, "the simple intent of the letter was to express concern about current and future detainees being transfer to Yemen.''
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, likewise issued a statement urging the suspension of releases of from Guantánamo to Yemen "at this time.''
"It is too unstable,'' she said.
Feinstein still supports the closure of Guantánamo and the idea of setting up an alternative site in Illinois, said aide Gil Duran, adding that her request for a freeze on Guantanamo-Yemen releases "was not retroactive.''
In contrast, the top Republican on Feinstein's committee, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., was quoted Wednesday as urging the president to impose a moratorium on releases and to scrap plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo.
"The president ought to rethink it now,'' Bond told The Hill newspaper. "The question is, Are we going to take every step possible to keep our country safe? That means stop releasing Gitmo detainees now.''