Obama reverses course on Gitmo detainees to Yemen 

Facing pressure to address a burgeoning threat from extremists in Yemen, President Obama is suspending transfer of Yemenis from Guantanamo Bay prison back to their own country.

But Obama says he remains determined to shutter the detention center.

"Make no mistake, we will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda," Obama said. "In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

Suspending the transfers is part of a larger effort by the administration to intensify its focus on Yemen, following an attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing involving a Nigerian who claims he was prepped and equipped for the mission by al Qaeda in Yemen.

Following an afternoon meeting at the White House with national security advisors, Obama called holes in the system that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a plane with explosives "not acceptable."

"The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list," Obama said. "The information was there."

The White House has dismissed as premature speculation about whether any top officials could lose their jobs over the breach. Obama said he would make public a preliminary report on security breakdowns in the coming days.

"When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way," Obama said.

The president has blamed human and systemic error for the oversights that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to reportedly hide explosives in his underwear in an attempt to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas.

Still, the administration is facing claims, including from within its own party, that the president came too late to a focus on terrorism.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., said the White House should go beyond "always reacting to the latest crisis."

"Unless we reform how our government collects, reports and analyzes information from around the world, we will remain a step behind al Qaeda's global network," Feingold said.

As part of the effort to close the detention center in Cuba, the administration previously has allowed a handful of detainees from Yemen to return home. In announcing he was suspending the transfers, Obama cited an "unsettled situation" in Yemen, a desperately poor nation with a faltering government that is emerging as a hub for Islamic jihadists.

While some on Capitol Hill are calling for an immediate halt to all transfers out of the prison, the White House said it expected to move some of the 90 Yemenis at Guantanamo to a federal prison in Thomson, Ill.

About 200 detainees remain in custody at the facility in Cuba.

While the administration sifts through its own failings that led to the Christmas Day attempt, airline passengers are facing a host of new safety measures Obama put into place immediately after the incident.

Obama promised more reforms ahead, specifically in the sharing of information by intelligence agencies and enhanced passenger screening at airports.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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