House Republicans on Thursday disputed claims from Obama administration officials that no detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay since the president had taken office have returned to the battlefield and killed Americans.
“I don’t believe it. . . . You’re saying in a public forum that they re-engaged, but you’re saying nobody died?” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked representatives from the State and Defense departments.
Much of the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners centered on the disappearance of Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a former detainee who was moved to Uruguay in 2014. Authorities lost track of him last month, according to Lee Wolosky, special envoy to the State Department for Guantanamo’s closure, who testified at the hearing.
Diyab was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and accused of being an al Qaida associate but was never charged.
According to The New York Times, former Uruguayan President José Mujica said Diyab and the five other former Guantanamo inmates he arrived with were free to leave the country if they chose.
But the detainees were supposed to be monitored by Uruguayan authorities, said committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., in his opening statement. Royce also said Diyab could be en route to his home country of Syria or Yemen.
“The president has been in a rush,” said Royce, “seemingly willing to release Guantanamo terrorists to wherever he can.”
Royce further accused Wolosky and Paul Lewis, the Defense Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo’s closure, of intentionally misleading Foreign Affairs Committee members last March when they testified that the Department of Defense had never knowingly transferred detainees to countries that did not have proper security procedures for supervising the former inmates.
Wolosky rebuffed those claims.
“I strongly disagree with any suggestion that I misled this committee,” Wolosky said. “In fact, I stand by my testimony from March, in which I affirmed that Uruguay had committed to and is, in fact, taking steps to substantially mitigate the risk of the six detainees that were transferred to its custody in December 2014.”
According to Wolosky and Lewis, Diyab is one of the 159 suspected or confirmed terrorists who have been transferred from Guantanamo since President Barack Obama took office.
Of those, less than 5 percent are confirmed to have rejoined terrorist groups, while 8 percent are suspected of rejoining the fight against coalition troops.
Those numbers were much higher during former President George W. Bush’s administration, when 532 detainees were transferred from the detention facility. Of those, administration officials said, 21 percent are confirmed to have “re-engaged” with suspected terrorist groups, while 14 percent are suspected of returning to war against the United States and its allies. According to Lewis, 14 detainees released under Bush are tied to American deaths.
Wolosky said this drop was a direct result of the administration’s stringent transfer requirements. He said he also trusted in intelligence community reports that none of the detainees released under Obama had killed American troops or civilians.
“We have put in place procedures that are comprehensive; they’re rigorous; they’re interagency in nature, and we believe that as a result of those procedures, that has contributed to the very substantial reduction in the re-engagement rates seen between both administrations,” Wolosky said.
Obama signed an executive order authorizing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on his second full day in office, but that hasn’t happened.
Law prevents the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to U.S. soil, so detainees are often sent to their home countries for further detention or monitoring. If these countries lack the proper security, the inmates are sent to whichever administration-approved country will take them.
...It will be seen and is seen as a sign of weakness by terrorists all over the world.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
Debate about the future of Guantanamo raged at Thursday’s hearing.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., argued that Congress should have the “political guts” to allow the prisoners to be moved to the United States. But Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said the detention of a terrorist at the Charleston Navy Brig had served as a recruiting tool for potential enemy combatants and had endangered the city.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., denounced Guantanamo’s closure, saying the action gives credence to those who claim it’s an illegal facility used for torture.
“The president, by making it a national security imperative (to close Guantanamo), has basically demonstrated that the propaganda by people who hate us will succeed,” Rohrabacher said. “And it will be seen and is seen as a sign of weakness by terrorists all over the world.”
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has also spoken in favor of keeping the detention center open, saying he’d “load it up with some bad dudes.”
According to Lewis, 79 detainees are currently held at Guantanamo. Of those, 29 are awaiting transfer, 10 are being prosecuted or have been sentenced and 40 are under review.
John Tompkins: 202-383-6041