WASHINGTON — GOP lawmakers are asking for a freeze on transfers from Guantanamo Bay and more information about past transfers after one detainee released to Uruguay went missing and another was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the State Department.
As Congress blocks President Obama’s efforts to close the prison facility, the White House is trying to quickly deplete Gitmo’s population. The transfer of two detainees to Serbia was announced Monday, bringing the population down to 76. There were 242 terror suspects at Guantanamo when Obama took office.
On Wednesday, the State Department issued the designations of Aslan Avgazarovich Byutukaev, the ISIS leader in Chechnya, and Ayrat Nasimovich Vakhitov, a Tatar fighter from Russia.
“Vakhitov is associated with Jaysh al-Muhajirin Wal Ansar, a group that was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a SDGT under Executive Order 13224. Vakhitov has also used the internet to recruit militants to travel to Syria,” the State Department said.
Vakhitov was released to Russia along with six of his countrymen in 2004. The Russians later released the former detainees. Vakhitov threatened afterward that he would sue the U.S. for torture at Gitmo.
Voice of America, citing a source inside Turkey’s North Caucasus community, reported that Vakhitov was among 30 people detained by Turkish authorities in connection with the June 28 Istanbul airport attack in which 45 people were killed. VOA was not able to get confirmation from the Turks.
The State Department’s announcement on Vakhitov’s new terrorist designation did not mention his Gitmo stay or potential ties to the Turkey attack.
Jihad Ahmad Dhiab, detained in Afghanistan in 2002 and accused of being an al-Qaeda weapons smuggler, was one of a six-pack of detainees sent to Uruguay in 2014. He said he was going out of the country for a religious retreat last month and has dropped off the radar.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of both committees, wrote Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday to find out what, if anything, the administration is doing to find Dhiab — and what travel documents any other former detainees may possess.
“Despite repeated warnings from the Intelligence Community concerning Dhiab’s behavior as a detainee, terrorist past, and animosity toward the United States, the administration proceeded with his release to Uruguay,” the senators wrote. “Congress has repeatedly requested copies of the formal written agreement between the Administration and Uruguayan Government detailing the circumstances of Dhiab’s (and five other former GTMO detainees received by Uruguay) release and resettlement and has yet to receive those documents or an adequate response.”
“While in Montevideo, Dhiab staked out the U.S. Embassy to ‘protest’ his previous detention, made repeated derogatory remarks about the United States, and expressed his desire to return to the Middle East and reengage in terrorism.”
Brazil has said they don’t have a record of Dhiab entering their country; the senators expressed a concern that he may target the upcoming Olympics or “seek to utilize illicit trafficking networks to work his way north toward the United States, or attempt to travel to Turkey, Syria or Iraq.”
Dhiab’s disappearance was discussed at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting last week.
Responding today to the Vakhitov news, Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) declared “it’s time for the president to halt all releases, and fundamentally reassess his plan to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay.”
“Dangerous jihadists are being released to countries with little intention of controlling them. And once again, it appears the results have been disastrous,” Royce said. “How many more innocent people have to die before the administration wakes up?”