Recent news highlights the need to keep Guantanamo prison open

Even after the Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a Northwest Airlines flight, the Obama administration remains steadfast in their belief that Guantanamo detainees should continue to be transferred to other countries and to a detention facility in the U.S. When asked whether the United States would continue transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, answered “absolutely.” Shortly thereafter, the White House changed its position and halted all transfers. The question was spurred by the discovery that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, was trained in Yemen by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a recently created offshoot of al Qaeda.

Long before Abdulmutallab hid explosive materials in his pants and boarded an airliner bound for Detroit, there were many signs that Yemen would be a less than reliable partner in the War on Terror. A year before al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, they bombed the USS Cole while it sat in the harbor of Yemen. When the U.S. and its coalition partners invaded Iraq in the early ’90s, Yemen sided with Saddam Hussein. Officially, the government in Yemen is on our side in the fight against al Qaeda, but only at arm’s length.

Six Guantanamo prisoners were returned to Yemen in December 2009. Press reports have indicated that 30 to 45 detainees were set to be transferred there before the administration issued the freeze. Of the 198 prisoners currently being held at Guantanamo, 91 of them are Yemeni. Said Ali al-Shihri, the deputy head of al Qaeda in Yemen, was released from Guantanamo in 2007. Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rabaish, an individual the Times of London described as a “prominent ideologue featured on Yemeni al Qaeda websites” was released from Guantanamo in 2006. 

Why are these terrorists being sent home? In order to close Guantanamo as quickly as possible, the administration is swiftly transferring detainees to their country of origin.  Any transfer freeze delays Guantanamo’s closing. Given this president’s penchant for closing Guantanamo, it is no wonder why it took 11 days for the administration to make the right call.

The recent publicity surrounding Yemen and the high proportion of Guantanamo detainees returning to the fight — roughly one in every seven detainees, according to unclassified reports — once again begs the question: Why is the administration so eager to close Guantanamo Bay?  The president remains steadfast with his two talking points: first, Guantanamo is a national taint abroad, and, second, Guantanamo is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda.

Of course, the president fails to recognize that his goodwill efforts to purge the United States of this supposed “taint” evoked no sympathy from Abdulmutallab as he injected detonating liquid into the pentaerythritol he had hidden in his underpants. Also undeterred was Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian intelligence double agent who murdered seven CIA agents at an operating base in Afghanistan.

The “recruiting tool” argument is, sadly, a fact of life.  However, it is not unique to Guantanamo. The day Guantanamo closes, the military detention center in Thomson, Ill., becomes the new recruitment tool for terrorists abroad. Terrorists will use propaganda regardless of what actions we take.

Remember, Camp Delta at Guantanamo did not exist prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. The anti-West Islamic terrorists will portray the U.S. as the “Great Satan” regardless of where we detain those committed to harming Americans.

Everyone wants Guantanamo to close when the time is right. That time is not now. The war on terror must continue and the fight to protect the homeland cannot be sacrificed for image control.
Olson serves on the House Homeland Security Committee.

More in Administration

Obama signs defense bill but blasts Gitmo restrictions

Read more »