Reports have been swirling that disagreement over Gitmo releases was a hangup between the White House and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
And in the few days before Hagel’s resignation was announced, Guantanamo detainees were shipped to Slovakia, Georgia and Saudi Arabia.
They follow the transfer of al-Qaeda recruiter Fouzi Khalid Abdullah Al Awda to Kuwait, an announcement made the day after Republicans won control of the Senate.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced the transfers to Eastern Europe.
Hashim Bin Ali Bin Amor Sliti is said to be a member of the Tunisian Combatant Group; he was captured in Pakistan in 2001. Three years later he was convicted in absentia for a foiled attack against U.S. military personnel in Belgium and for his role in assassinating Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. A 2008 Defense Department assessment found the Tunisian to be of medium intelligence value, but a high risk to the U.S. and allies.
Husayn Salim Muhammad Al-Mutari Yafai, a Yemeni, worked as an al-Qaeda facilitator stationed in Iran, according to the U.S. government. Here, he helped shuttle fighters into Afghanistan. A 2008 Defense Department assessment describes how Iranian intelligence would help get fake passports for the terrorists passing through. The U.S. got him from the Afghans in 2002.
The report deemed the Yemeni was both a high threat and of high intelligence value, particularly because of the information he possessed about Iran’s activities.
Both went to Slovakia. “The United States coordinated with the Government of Slovakia to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the Pentagon said.
Georgia, meanwhile, got three Guantanamo detainees, all Yemeni.
Salah Mohammed Salih Al-Dhabi is a reported al-Qaeda member who trained in Afghanistan and “has demonstrated a commitment to jihad.” Abdel Ghaib Ahmad Hakim traveled with Osama bin Laden through Afghanistan; among his property held while in detention was one 7.62 mm bullet, according to a DoD report. Abdul Khaled Al-Baydani is listed as al-Qaeda fighter who battled U.S. forces in Tora Bora and “has expressed his encouragement for and desires to engage in further hostilities against U.S. forces.”
“The United States is grateful to the Government of Georgia for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon said.
On Saturday, another detainee transfer was announced.
Muhammed Murdi Issa Al-Zahrani, deemed a high risk to the U.S. before a Guantanamo review board changed its tune, was sent back to his home, Saudi Arabia. He is said to have helped plan Massoud’s assassination and belonged to an al-Qaeda special ops force for which he received “extensive” training “including the use of explosives.”
“Detainee is forthcoming in the details of his extremist intentions,” says the 2008 DoD report that branded him a high threat and of high intelligence value.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said the detainee was going into the Mohammed Bin Naif Counseling and Care Center for rehab. Arab News reported after Al-Zahrani’s release that the Saudis are trying to get nine more of their countrymen released from Gitmo.
Among the terrorist rehab center’s objectives: “Spreading the concept of moderateness and rejecting immoderate way of thinking.”
The government-run center aims “to be a world-class model illustrating how intellectual security can be achieved depending upon moderateness of Islam, in addition to reinforcing national loyalty.”
The population of the Guantanamo detention facility is now 142.
The New York Times reported that “in the view of White House officials” Hagel “helped to thwart” Obama’s Gitmo liquidation plans by rescinding approval to repatriate four Afghan detainees — a decision that “annoyed” National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Asked about the report Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said he wouldn’t comment on specific policy decisions.
“What I will say just on the issue of detainee transfers, one, he fully supports the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility and therefore, the transfer of the detainees in that facility, fully supports the president’s policy that the Guantanamo detention facility should close and that those detainees should be transferred out of there,” Kirby said.
“He has also said himself that he takes his responsibility very seriously with respecting — with effecting those detainee transfers and making sure that the assurances we get from third-party countries are adequate to our own national security,” Kirby continued. “He takes that very seriously, and there’s not a single transfer that he signs off that he doesn’t do so in a very sober fashion.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Tuesday that he didn’t have “specific insight into that conversation.”
“I think we were fairly forthcoming in the reasons that yesterday’s announcement was made,” Schultz said. “That was based on several weeks of conversations initiated by Secretary Hagel to the president of the United States, just talking about what he had worked on the past two years, what the next two years would look like, and they, together, came to the conclusion that it would be best to start anew.”
Late last month, Hagel was confronted with reports that as many as 20 to 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, some set free within the past few years, were believed to have joined ranks with terrorist groups fighting in Syria.
“Well, we know that some of the detainees that have come out of Guantanamo have gone back to the fight, to the battlefield. We’re aware of that,” Hagel told reporters on Oct. 31. “And we think that overall the policy of getting to close Guantanamo is clearly in the interests of the United States, as the president has articulated, which when I — I was in the United States Senate, I supported it.”
“It’s an imperfect world. It’s a dangerous world,” Hagel continued. “This is why we pay so much attention to getting commitments from host countries in securing those commitments and doing everything we can within our power to assure that those commitments, not to allow those detainees to go beyond what is required in order to secure them in these different host countries that take them. But we do know that some have joined the fight.”
“Host countries” have included Sudan, where leader Omar al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The country received one detainee last December.
Asked if this recidivism bothered him, Hagel replied, “Yes, of course it does.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey added, “We believe that the recidivism is a — is a relatively small fraction of those detainees, which have been placed into conditions where their risk — where their risk of recidivism is mitigated.”
“But even one would not make someone wearing the uniform very content,” Dempsey said. “So we — I provide my advice in every case to the secretary of Defense who, as you know, is the certifying official. And the exact number is actually being assessed inside of the intelligence community, so I can’t comment on that.”