The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has raised the alarm about a bulk transfer of Guantanamo detainees last December, stressing to Secretary of State John Kerry that the action may be putting the United States in danger and may have been illegal.
The transfer to Uruguay was the largest number of detainees released at one time since 2009.
Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Bin Abess Ourgy “possessed information suggesting he had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks as well as other planned suicide attacks, and had reported associations with senior al-Qaida members including Usama Bin Laden,” said a 2007 Defense Department report.
Mohammed Tahanmatan, a Palestinian, was a member of Hamas who went to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban. “During detention, detainee has stated he hates all enemies of Islam, including Americans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims who do not think as he does,” stated his 2008 report.
Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a Syrian with terror ties from Libya to Pakistan, was captured at an al-Qaeda safe house in Lahore in 2002.
Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) today released a letter he wrote to Kerry at the end of April about the release of those “accused of being hardened al-Qaeda fighters, having been involved in forging documents, trained as suicide bombers, and engaged in fighting at Tora Bora.”
“After a first-hand assessment by Committee staff, this transfer appears to be inconsistent with U.S. law, as Uruguay has not taken steps to mitigate the risk that these detainees pose to the United States, including the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo,” Royce wrote.
“As you know, prior to such a detainee release, the Secretary of Defense is required by law (P.L. 113-66) to determine that steps have been or will be taken to ‘substantially mitigate the risk’ of released individuals from again threatening the United States or United States persons or interests. Congress received – after reported reluctance from then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – the required determination related to these six detainees in July 2014.”
The decision to transfer a detainee, he noted, should be made only after “specific conversations” with the host country about what measures they “will take in order to sufficiently mitigate the specific threat that the detainee may pose,” and the State Department has expressly said “if we do not receive adequate assurances, the transfer does not occur.”
“In light of these required determinations and assurances, it was surprising and very concerning that senior Uruguayan officials asserted that they had not imposed or accepted any conditions when they agreed to receive these former detainees,” Royce continued. “In December, the Uruguayan defense minister clearly stated ‘They will not be restricted in any way;’ while a U.S. official involved in this transfer acknowledged publicly that ‘we waited until the last minute to deal with the details.’”
A Dec. 2 letter to the president of Uruguay from Clifford Sloan, then the State Deparment’s special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, stated in reference to the six detainees, “There is no information that the above mentioned individuals were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies.”
“This dubious assertion certainly lessens any sense of obligation Uruguayan officials may feel to undertake adequate risk mitigation efforts, as required by U.S. law,” wrote Royce. “Given the troubling circumstances of these detainee transfers, Committee staff looked into the detainees’ current status, including through official travel to Uruguay. The information received raises added, serious questions and concerns.”
Royce said that, under Uruguayan law, they had to accept the terror suspects as “refugees,” and the U.S. let the detainees sign that paperwork. But under Uruguayan law, once a refugee arrives on their soil, the government cannot conduct surveillance on or monitor the individual.
“Was the Department aware of this implicit conflict? If so, why was this transfer completed?” the chairman asked Kerry.
The six detainees received Mercosur identity cards as part of their refugee status, which would allow them to travel to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia with ease. One of the detainees is known to have traveled to Argentina in February.
“This freedom of widespread movement would seem to make effective mitigation, if attempted, near impossible,” Royce wrote.
Once the Gitmo detainees were in Uruguay, a house was provided for them by Uruguay’s labor union, PIT-CNT — six blocks from the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo.
“I remain concerned that this close proximity to the Embassy, combined with the apparent lack of host country mitigation measures, poses a potential risk to the safety and security of our Embassy and its employees, including local hires,” Royce added.
In fact, those detainees have been protesting in a tent encampment outside of the Embassy, essentially complaining about their new home. Faraj said, “We came here and they asked us to start working right away. It’s not possible to become a normal person in such a short time. We need a proper rehab program that allows us to integrate into the society and step by step we can start working and moving on with our lives.”
“Now we moved to another kind of prison where nothing has changed,” Faraj said, according to NPR. “We are still under the same pressure. The mental state has not changed. I don’t feel settled down. This is essential for me to move on.”
“As a general matter under the law of war, there is no obligation to provide direct compensation to individuals detained under the law of war for their detention,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said April 30 when asked if the U.S. should be helping the detainees get back on their feet.
Royce requested that Kerry’s department give a briefing to the Foreign Affairs Committee on the status of these detainees and what risk mitigation efforts are being employed.
“I am deeply concerned by the lack of restraints on and the threatening activities of these former Guantanamo detainees in Uruguay,” Royce said today. “The committee will continue its investigation of the State Department’s role in facilitating this troubling detainee transfer. I hope that the new Uruguayan government will treat these men as the threat I believe they are, but it surely won’t unless the administration shows greater concern over the risk they pose to U.S. personnel. “