Plans to transfer two Guantanamo detainees overseas raise concern

The Obama administration’s plans to transfer two more Guantanamo Bay detainees overseas in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt is causing consternation on Capitol Hill.

Just days before the near takedown of a passenger jet over Detroit, the State Department notified Congress Dec. 22 of its plans to transfer two more detainees overseas, according to a Senate e-mail notification obtained by The Hill.

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Because of the holiday congressional recess some key members of Congress only became aware of the plan to transfer the additional detainees late this week and are calling for the White House to freeze the transfer of the pair, as well as all detainees in the Guantanamo detention facility, until the entire repatriation process can be reviewed.

“We continue to send people back to countries that have weak central governments and ungoverned areas,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House intelligence committee. “It baffles the brain.”

Hoekstra is concerned about just one of the two latest detainees set for transfer. The other, he said, is going to a country “of no concern.” He would not disclose the countries or the names of the detainees because the material is classified.

A spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, also decried the decision to continue releasing detainees in the wake of the bombing attempt.

“We are deeply concerned about pending transfers on the heels of the Christmas Day bombing and news reports suggesting that even more released GITMO detainees have returned to militant activities than previously thought,” said Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller. “All transfers should be put on hold until there has been a chance to analyze emerging numbers about the threat of recidivism, and to begin patching the cracks in the system laid bare by the Christmas day bomb plot.”


The State Department notified Congress of its plans to transfer two additional detainees just two days after the administration transferred 12 Guantanamo Bay detainees to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somaliland. Six of the 12 were transferred to the government of Yemen.

President Barack Obama’s policy of transferring detainees out of the Guantanamo Bay facility and overseas has been under the microscope in the wake of the botched Dec. 25 bombing attempt. An al-Qaeda wing in Yemen, which has become a haven for terrorist activity, claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of the Northwest airlines flight.

In addition, at least one of the planners behind the bombing plot had been released to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 and ended up rejoining terrorist ranks in Yemen, according to several media reports.

Last week, Obama suspended any more transfers of Yemeni nationals still being held at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba over fears that they could become involved in terrorist groups in the Arab country, which has become a haven for al-Qaeda. Obama’s announcement came after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill that the administration should suspend the transfer of any more detainees to Yemen because the country was too “unstable” right now.

Feinstein did not return a request for comment on the latest detainees set for transfer.

Recent reports about increasing rates of recidivism for transferred Guantanamo Bay terrorists is further complicating Obama’s goal of shuttering Guantanamo. In recent days, several media outlets have reported on an updated report by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency saying one in five former detainees have returned to militant activity.

“In light of recent events, both the attempted bombing and the link to a former detainee from Gitmo who then became an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen…there should be a whole lot of red flags about transferring any more detainees out right now,” Hoekstra said. “Are they going to a country that produced any of these recidivists?”

Democrats argue that the Bush administration released more than 500 detainees and that the president’s Guantanamo Bay task force is carefully reviewing each detainee before they are transferred.

The White House so far is keeping mum about its plans for additional detainee transfers.

A senior administration official would not discuss any pending plans to release additional detainees but reiterated Obama’s commitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison because it has become a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and its affiliates – including Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

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The official also placed the blame for any recidivism squarely on Bush’s shoulders.

“We have been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight,” the official said. “The president created the Guantanamo Review Task Force to conduct the thorough work that had not been done before: to review the relevant information about each detainee, including the threat they pose, to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained or transferred.

“Decisions about detainees are made on an individual basis only after all of that information is considered by an interagency group that include the Defense Department, law enforcement, and the intelligence community,” the official continued.

State Department spokesman Brock Johnson also wouldn’t comment about upcoming transfers, although he noted that the administration is required by law to inform Congress about its intent to transfer detainees at least 15 days before the transfer occurs.

The administration has yet to announce the transfer of the two detainees in question, which is usually done after the detainees already arrive at their destination.

“There are further transfers ahead, both repatriations to detainees’ home countries and resettlements in third countries,” Johnson said. “While we do not comment on our bilateral discussions with foreign governments or possible transfers, we are encouraged by the continued willingness of many of our close friends and allies to consider resettling detainees and help our effort to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”