The Pentagon’s special envoy overseeing the Obama administration’s closure plans for the Guantanamo detention facility admitted to Congress today that Americans have been killed by former detainees — but wouldn’t give a number.
Lee Wolosky, special Gitmo envoy for the State Department, and Paul Lewis, special Gitmo envoy for the Defense Department, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on what Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) dubbed “Obama’s race to empty the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
Royce noted that three dozen detainees are scheduled to be transferred to other countries this summer. The majority are Yemeni nationals who will be going to places other than Yemen.
“Unfortunately, we know many of the recipient countries don’t have the desire, or commitment or even ability to monitor these dangerous individuals and prevent them from returning to the battlefield,” he said. “Countries like Ghana and Uruguay aren’t typical and security and intelligence partners, but they are being asked to shoulder a heavy burden and a heavy responsibility.”
“And there are real concerns about the administration setting aside intelligence assessments to deceive countries about the threat posed by the militants they are being asked to take in. That was certainly a finding of this committee, our investigation into the release of six detainees to Uruguay in December 2014.”
Those final transfers would leave about 45 Gitmo detainees to be transferred to U.S. soil, which is currently blocked by law.
“I see no interest in changing that law, certainly not by the American people, and our laws must be honored,” Royce said. “The White House, meanwhile, has no solid plans to detain and interrogate terrorists captured today.”
Wolosky maintained that the “rigorous approval and negotiation process” under Obama has “contributed to the dramatic reduction in the confirmed reengagement for detainees transferred during this administration.”
Lewis said “a highly ranking security official from one of our staunchest allies on counterterrorism” told him “the greatest single action the United States can take to fight terrorism is to close Guantanamo.”
The DoD envoy added that “we believe detainees can be safely and securely and humanely detained in the United States.”
Of the Yemenis cleared for transfer, Lewis said officials have to “go look at this list of 27 other countries that have stepped up and find a fit for that detainee, find a fit for the security situation in the country, their willingness and their capacity.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) asked if the Defense Department “ever knowingly transferred a detainee to a country that did not exhibit an ability to substantially mitigate the risk or maintain control of that individual.”
“We say that about 30 percent or whatever that figure is that have been released have been — have returned to terrorist activities. How many lives have been lost by those terrorists who went back to their terrorist activities?” Rohrabacher asked.
Lewis said he would be able to talk about that in a classified setting.
“So is it over 10?” asked Rohrabacher.
“Sir, what I can tell you is unfortunately, there have been Americans that have died because of Gitmo detainees,” Lewis replied.
“How many Americans have to die, how many people in Brussels or Paris have to die — civilians? What’s the threshold at that point, well, maybe we will keep them under control in Gitmo?” Rohrabacher responded.
“Sir, when anybody dies, it’s a tragedy and we don’t want anybody to die because we transfer detainees,” Lewis said. “However, it’s the best judgment and the considered judgment of this administration and the previous administration that the risk of keeping Gitmo open is outweighed — that we should close Gitmo.”
“So innocent people who are going to lose their lives because of this, they’re just part of the equation?” the congressman continued.
“No, sir, there are risks,” the envoy replied.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is a leader in the upper chamber coalition to stop the closure of Gitmo as his state is being considered for detainee transfers, said in a statement that Lewis’ testimony “is a clear admission by the Obama administration that their attempts to shutter Guantanamo Bay are detrimental to our national security, and that transferring dangerous terrorists around the world has led to the death of Americans.”
“The president must rescind his Guantanamo plans, and instead begin detaining captured ISIS fighters at the facility,” Scott said. “This is bigger than politics, and the president must stop putting campaign promises first and American lives second.”