Accelerating Off a Cliff

The Washington Post recently reported that as 2014 draws to a close, President Obama is “accelerating” his efforts to close down detention/interrogation operations at Guantanamo Bay, which is to say Obama is frantically searching for host countries to take any number of 64 detainees who have been “cleared for transfer”, out of the total of 132 detainees still remaining.

As the 114th Congress prepares to convene next month, new and returning legislators would be wise to ask some questions, sooner rather than later, about where Obama’s ramped up maneuvering to shut Gitmo down logically takes U.S. national security. For example:

  1. Ibrahim al-Rubaish, formerly a Gitmo detainee held under the Bush administration, was released in 2006 into Saudi custody. He is now the spiritual leader of the highly lethal al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and sources at the Department of Defense are saying that he has sent 2,500 jihadists from Saudi Arabia and Yemen to fight for the Islamic State. The State Department has even put a bounty on his head, to the tune of $5 million.

If al-Rubaish was deemed fit for transfer as far back as 2006, and is now a leading al Qaeda figure replenishing the ranks of the Islamic State, what does that say about who remains at Gitmo? What can we look forward to after their transfers?

  1. Some media coverage has indicated that although those detainees cleared for transfer have been designated as such because they are deemed to no longer pose a threat to the United States, the Obama administration continues to negotiate with potential recipient countries to ensure that these individuals will not return to the battlefield. As CNN reports:

“Once a detainee is deemed no longer a risk, they are either transferred back to their country of origin, or a third country that is willing to take them.

Sixty-four of the 132 remaining detainees have been ruled eligible for transfer.

Of the 64 eligible, 54 are from Yemen. But the United States is not willing, at this point, to send them back to Yemen because of concerns that the government — under pressure from al Qaeda and Houthi militants — cannot ensure they do not join al Qaeda elements there. The administration for the last several months has been trying to find a country that will take the Yemenis and provide security and human rights assurances for them.”

If there is a risk that any of these supposedly transferrable detainees will (re)join al Qaeda, in Yemen or elsewhere – why have they retained their status as “eligible for transfer”?

  1. The Post briefly mentions that roughly a dozen detainees not cleared for transfer (either now or possibly in the near future) because they are simply too dangerous to release, but deemed ineligible for trials due to evidence issues, will remain in “legal limbo”. Where are we supposed to hold these guys, if not Gitmo? The alternatives would either be transferring them to other countries, or transferring them to the United States, both of which are seemingly, rightfully –and in the case of transfer to the U.S., by law — off the table with these individuals. So what is the endgame? Shouldn’t Obama think this through before barreling towards Gitmo’s closure?

Obama keeps offering as a major justification for closing Gitmo that its existence inspires jihadists around the world – as if they were not somehow inspired to attack the United States on any number of occasions prior to the establishment of Gitmo detention operations, including on 9/11. In truth, it’s the jihadists’ ideology that inspires jihadists around the world.

Gotta wonder, though, whether they are also at least a little inspired by watching the President of the United States scramble to release the worst of their worst while the fight – from their perspective, if not from Obama’s – rages on.

About Ben Lerner

Ben Lerner is the Vice President for Government Relations at the Center for Security Policy, where he manages the Center's educational efforts and interactions with the federal government. His articles have appeared in The American Spectator, The Washington Times, Townhall, The Washington Examiner, and inFocus Quarterly. He holds a law degree from Georgetown University, and received his bachelor's degree in political science, with highest distinction, from the University of Michigan.