By Susan Crabtree - 03/30/10 06:11 PM EDT
Reports that a suspected terrorist released from Guantánamo Bay may have rejoined the Taliban are creating new headaches for the Obama administration.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) called on Obama to stop sending detainees to Afghanistan.
“We must learn from our past mistakes and prevent additional detainees from rejoining the fight against our armed forces and aid workers in Afghanistan,” Wolf and Myrick wrote. Wolf is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department, and Myrick is a member of the Intelligence panel.
The pair cited an article in the Long War Journal that quoted senior intelligence officials identifying Abdul Hafiz as a possible Taliban lieutenant, along with two other former Guantánamo Bay detainees released under the George W. Bush administration.
In the last three days, other news outlets, citing intelligence officials, also have reported the likelihood that Hafiz, who was released from the Guantánamo Bay prison in December, has returned to the fight in Afghanistan. News reports state he is believed to be overseeing the Taliban’s kidnapping and ransom activities.
If true, Hafiz would be the first known case of a former detainee at the prison joining a terrorist group after being released by the Obama’s administration.
A White House official cautioned that the information about Hafiz “at this stage is inconclusive.”
In January, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on the Obama administration to stop releasing detainees to Yemen in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack hatched in that country.
As the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein’s position changed the discourse among Democrats trying to negotiate the tough legal and political terrain involved with shuttering the Guantánamo Bay prison. Shortly afterward, the White House announced that it was no longer releasing detainees to Yemen.
Her office did not respond to inquiries about Hafiz or about whether Feinstein shared Wolf’s and Myrick’s concerns.
Ken Gude, a human-rights expert with the Center for American Progress, defended the Obama administration’s detainee decisions, calling it “a very careful and deliberate process” that contrasts with “the haphazard manner” in which the previous administration made decisions about releasing detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.
“Rep. Wolf only seems to have found his voice to criticize Guantánamo transfers after Bush left office,” Gude said in an e-mailed response to questions about Hafiz.
He also noted that Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have emphasized the need to close Guantánamo and shift more responsibility for detention operations in that conflict to the Afghans themselves.
Wolf and Myrick also asked the administration to release an updated, unclassified version of the recidivism rate of Guantánamo Bay detainees. A Pentagon analysis from December, which was leaked to the press, showed that the number of detainees at the facility in Cuba returning to the fight has risen to 20 percent, up from 14 percent last spring.
The most recent report was completed in late December.
As the administration has struggled to find ways to shut down the facility and deal with a backlash from Republicans on Capitol Hill who oppose transferring any detainees to mainland U.S. soil, public attitudes also have been shifting against the idea of closing the prison. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted March 19-21 shows support for closing the facility has dropped 12 points over the past 14 months.
Shortly before Obama’s inauguration, 51 percent of Americans said they thought the Guantánamo Bay facility should be closed. Now that number is down to 39 percent, with six in 10 believing the government should continue to operate Guantánamo.