By Kristina Wong - 10/31/14 09:28 AM EDT
Republicans are urging the Obama administration to suspend any releases of Guantánamo Bay detainees, while the U.S. is fighting a war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL).
"To continue to do so just as we have had to open a new front in the war on terror is unthinkable," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelThere's still time for another third-party option Hagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill MORE on Thursday.
The request comes after Fox News reported that 20 to 30 released Guantánamo Bay detainees are now fighting with the terror group.
"The re-engagement rate of former Guantanamo detainees is ever-increasing and there are public reports that detainees are specifically rejoining the fight alongside ISIL," McKeon wrote to Hagel, who is responsible for signing off on detainee transfers.
"The U.S. Government must not release terrorist detainees at the same time we have committed U.S. service members to fight ISIL," McKeon said.
President Obama has pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay detainee facility, where about 150 detainees remain who are either high-value detainees, such as 9/11 attack planner Khalid Sheik Mohammed, or involved in cases where there is not enough evidence to prosecute yet do not meet the criteria for release. Eighty have been deemed eligible for release.
Almost 90 of those remaining are from Yemen, where al Qaeda operatives have repeatedly broken into prisons and released militants, making it difficult for the U.S. to return detainees there.
Hagel acknowledged during a briefing Thursday that U.S. officials are aware some released detainees have returned to the battlefield, but he said the administration's plans to close the facility is "clearly in the interests of the United States."
He added, "It's an imperfect world. It's a dangerous world. This is why we pay so much attention to getting commitments from host countries [to] not to allow those detainees to go beyond what is required in order to secure them," he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, who spoke alongside Hagel, said those returning to the fight were a "relatively small fraction" of all released detainees, but the exact number is being assessed inside of the intelligence community.
The Obama administration angered members of Congress earlier this year, when it failed to notify them ahead of the release of five Taliban commanders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The detainees were released to Qatar, where some reports say they have already met with family members with the Taliban.
Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSanders to campaign for Clinton on Labor Day Republicans slam Biden remarks on closing Gitmo GOP: Ship harassment shows US-Iran relations aren't warming MORE (R-N.H.) also urged President Obama in a letter Thursday to suspend all transfers and provide more information about Guantánamo detainees who have joined ISIS and on steps taken to prevent it from happening in the future.
"Our troops should never have to confront a former Guantanamo detainee on the battlefield, and we should undertake every effort to ensure that does not happen," she said.
Of the 620 detainees released from Guantánamo Bay, 180 have returned or are suspected of returning to the battlefield, according to Fox News.