Closing Gitmo: There's No Room for Error

One of President Obama's first decisions upon taking office was to issue an executive order mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison where suspected terrorists are being held. As a lightning rod for anti-American propagandists and those genuinely concerned about civil liberties, the closure of the camp is an admirable objective, but should it be done hastily and without adequate planning, a disaster will be forthcoming.

The next generation of terrorists and radical Islamists may be led by former Gitmo prisoners, as the rate of recidivism of one in seven indicates. Already, several terrorists that have quickly climbed through the ranks of the extremist elite are known to have been former Gitmo residents, now supplied with the knowledge of the U.S. legal and interrogation processes that such experience provides.

If you're looking for proof that the terrorists have perfected the practice of taqiyya, the calculated manipulation of an enemy, look no further than Mullah Zakir. Once a top commander for Taliban forces, he was captured in 2001 and released in 2007. Today, he is a high-level enemy official, a commander of Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan believed to have helped manage the relationship between the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban.

Keenly aware of the West's inclination to give people the benefit of the doubt, he followed a carefully written script before his release, speaking supportively of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan because "they are building my country." He claimed he was forced into being a commander for the Taliban, saying that "I have never been America's enemy and I never intend to be."

One of the options that has been used by the Bush administration and will be used by the Obama administration as it decides what to do with the Gitmo prisoners is sending them to the "rehabilitation program" of Saudi Arabia. While many officials seem to believe this program has been successful, the cost of when it fails will be exceedingly high.

At the same time, we need to remember that a lot of the information about the "success" of the program comes from the Saudis themselves, who have a vested interest in trying to portray themselves as a full-fledged partner in the war on terror. While Saudi officials bragged that not a single graduate of their "rehabilitation" program had relapsed, it was later found out that this was untrue, when the Saudis released a list of their most-wanted terrorists. The biographies of some of the terrorists revealed that several had been former Gitmo prisoners and had gone through their program, a fact the Saudis likely knew but failed to disclose as they boasted about their success. It's possible that the Saudis suddenly found out about their former patients' relapse shortly before the most-wanted terrorist list was put together, but based on the Saudis' past history of deception, we should be skeptical.

Among those who were sent from Gitmo to be un-brainwashed by the Saudis was Said Ali al-Shihri, who left the facility in 2007. Upon graduation, he became the deputy leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen, after spending considerable time in Iran. The same goes for Abdullah al-Qarawi, who also went to Iran upon finishing his post-Gitmo rehabilitation, where he is believed to be overseeing a network of over 100 Saudi al-Qaeda operatives. Mohammed al-Oufi has the same history as well after being released in November 2007. He also joined al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen, but turned himself in to the Saudis after having a dream where the Prophet Muhammad and second caliph Omar bin Khattab demanded that he change his ideology. If a dream was more effective in persuading this individual to abandon his jihad than the "rehabilitation program," then the U.S. needs to be hesitant about placing its hopes in the Wahhabist Saudis' claim that they can create moderates out of extremists.

Altogether, according to the Saudis' own records, at least 14 former Gitmo prisoners from their country have entered their program and returned to a life of terrorism. Only three of these individuals have been apprehended by the Saudi authorities and 11 are operating outside of the country. Keep in mind this is simply the ones we know about and the number may very well be much larger and doesn't consider those of other nationalities.

In addition, this number only reflects those who have engaged in terrorist activity. There are certainly additional ones who wish to fight the West again and haven't been able to, and ones who may disagree with the tactics of al-Qaeda yet still sympathize with their overall goals. As I wrote in a previous article, there are three types of jihadists and if the Saudi program simply shuffles the most reckless bunch down to another category of jihadist, then they have simply been convinced to use a different type of weapon to achieve their goal.

The other discussed option of moving Gitmo prisoners to U.S. prisons is another unwise alternative. Unless the prisoners are denied any socializing at all with other inmates, it is almost certain that their radicalism will spread to other prisoners. As the recently foiled plot to bomb Jewish and military sites in New York by prison converts demonstrates, the prison system can act as an incubator for extremism. Cut off from the outside world, social interactions with extremists combined with the presence of extremist Islamic literature will produce a breeding ground for terrorists. No, the Gitmo prisoners may not be able to take part in an attack themselves, but their new friends and students will be free to take up the fight for them when they are released.

There is room to argue that Guantanamo Bay is unethical or even a threat itself to national security. Some military officials claim that it has been successfully used as a recruiting device for militants overseas. If the prison can be closed safely, other options should be considered. But if the flaws to these alternatives aren't fixed and if other ideas aren't debated, then today's terrorists can look forward to rejoining their captured colleagues and those influenced by them.