Homeland Security

Transfer of 15 Gitmo Detainees 'Unconscionable' Because of Security Flubs, Lawmakers Say

Fazel Karim holds a picture of his brother, Obaidullah, who was recently released from Guantanamo Bay, at his home in the village of Haiderkhil, Khost province, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Nishanuddin Khan)

WASHINGTON —  Republicans on Capitol Hill are furious about the largest-ever onetime transfer of Guantanamo detainees under this White House as President Obama tries to liquidate the prison in the face of Congress blocking its complete closure.

On Monday, the Defense Department announced the transfer of 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates: Abd al-Muhsin Abd al-Rab Salih al-Busi, Abd al-Rahman Sulayman, Mohammed Nasir Yahi Khussrof Kazaz, Abdul Muhammad Ahmad Nassar al-Muhajari, Muhammad Ahmad Said al-Adahi, Abdel Qadir al-Mudafari, Mahmud Abd Al Aziz al-Mujahid, Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh, Mohammed Kamin, Zahar Omar Hamis bin Hamdoun, Hamid al-Razak (aka Haji Hamidullah), Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmed, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih, Obaidullah, and Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah. A dozen are Yemeni and three are Afghan.

The UAE said it plans to send the men and their families through a rehabilitation program launched in November. The program includes psychiatrists, social workers and clergy. Terrorism-related crimes carry penalties up to capital punishment in the UAE.

The emirates accepted five Yemeni detainees last year and a UAE citizen back in 2008.

“In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States’ intent to transfer these individuals and of the secretary’s determination that these transfers meet the statutory standard,” the DoD release said.

“The United States is grateful to the government of the United Arab Emirates for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the government of the United Arab Emirates to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

The large transfer dropped the population at Guantanamo Bay to 61.

President Obama, vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, did not make any statement about the move. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, though, called the administration’s actions “unconscionable.”

“Several terrorists released by the Obama administration have returned to the battlefield and re-engaged in attacks against coalition forces and our allies,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said. “The administration continues to put our national security at risk in misguided attempts to fulfill campaign pledges and to cement the president’s legacy.”

Only six of the detainees were unanimously approved for release. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, said that alone “raises serious concerns.”

“The administration must share with Congress any written agreement between the U.S. and UAE on monitoring these terrorists,” Rubio said. “Some countries that pledged to monitor terrorists that were previously released have demonstrated they are unable or unwilling to do so.”

He brought up the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, one of six prisoners transferred to Uruguay in 2014. Dhiab, who has told media he’s still an al-Qaeda sympathizer, disappeared in June and showed up last month at the Syrian consulate in Caracas. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) charged that the “administration and foreign countries have lost track of numerous detainees.”

“But instead of addressing alarming problems like these, the Obama administration is doubling down on its unpopular mission to empty Gitmo at all costs,” Rubio said.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), another Foreign Relations Committee member who has been lobbying against the transfer of any detainees to his home state, stressed that “at least 3 in 10 detainees have or are suspected to have rejoined the fight against the West upon release.”

“It’s clear President Obama is rushing to fulfill an old campaign promise during the final months of his presidency given that this transfer of detainees is the largest since he was sworn into office,” Gardner said. “Instead of capitalizing on partisan politics, I urge the administration to prioritize the fight against ISIS and homegrown terror by developing a real strategy to keep Americans safe at home and abroad.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who has been working with Gardner as South Carolina has also been mentioned as a possible relocation site for Gitmo detainees deemed too dangerous to release, noted that “the most recent detainee transfer program has cost us approximately $1.5 million of taxpayer money, yet there is no agreement the nation receiving the prisoners will monitor their activity.”

State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked at Monday’s briefing if the administration can guarantee the American people that these 15 released detainees won’t return to the battlefield.

“What’s important is that any time – so as we scale down Gitmo and hopefully one day close it altogether, the detainees have been vetted through what is a very rigorous process, and I can assure you that it’s a very rigorous process – looked at all of the – whether they would return to the battlefield, recidivist or recidivism, I guess, is – was the terminology used,” Toner replied.

“Is it 100 percent foolproof? Have there been no cases or zero cases of this happening? Well, no. There have been cases of it, but very few. I don’t know the percentage in front of me, but it’s incredibly small. By and large, these detainees that have been sent to various countries and governments who have accepted them have worked very hard to maintain surveillance of these individuals, to keep track of them, keep an eye on them, if you will, to ensure that they no longer pose a security threat to anyone – not just the American people, but to anyone.”

Transfers have included giving detainees to Sudan, where the president is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Ibrahim al-Qosi, released to Sudan in 2012, has since joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “The United States coordinated with the government of Sudan regarding appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the Defense Department said at the time. Two more detainees were transferred there in 2013.

Toner insisted security “is something that we take very seriously.”

“These governments who take these detainees on and find them homes and resettle them also take it very seriously because it’s on their home soil that these people are living. That’s, I think, step one in any kind of plan to close Gitmo: where you relocate the detainees,” the spokesman said. “I think security, safety of innocent civilians is foremost.”