More Released Gitmo Detainees Returning to Terrorism - Approps Republicans Insist on Immediate Halt to Transfers and Releases

Apr 12, 2011
Press Release

More and More Released Guantanamo Detainees Returning to Terrorism
Appropriations Republicans Insist on an Immediate Halt to
Detainee Transfers and Releases
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several Ranking Republican Members of the House Appropriations Committee today sent a letter to National Security Advisor General James Jones, insisting that the transfer and release of Guantanamo detainees be halted immediately, and that efforts to close the facility be put on hold. The letter indicates that the percentage of former Guantanamo detainees returning to the battlefield has jumped from 14% to over 20%, and that the remaining detainees currently held at the facility are believed to pose an even greater threat to our national security than those already released.  In addition, the Ranking Members state concern over press reports unveiling several detainees who have returned to terrorism but have not been counted in Administration reports.
The text of the letter follows:
May 7, 2010
General James L. Jones
National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear General Jones,
            We are writing to you as the President’s National Security Advisor to express our grave continuing concerns regarding the Administration’s current policy regarding the disposition of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as the Administration’s continued failure to keep the Congress fully informed on this critical national security issue.  Given the seriousness of this issue, we ask that you recommend to the President an immediate prohibition on the transfer of any detainee out of Guantanamo Bay, and a halt to any action related to the closure of the facility.
            It has been almost 16 months since the Administration ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility.  That mandate was announced prior to any review of the alleged terrorist acts of the detained individuals, the national security risks associated with the release or transfer, or the recidivism rates of previously released detainees.  Since that mandate was announced, the Administration has yet to provide the Congress or the American people a comprehensive plan for the disposition of each detainee; including the risk such transfer or release would pose to the national security of the homeland and our troops serving on the battlefield.
 In addition, the President’s budget request proposes the lifting of each and every safeguard and notification requirement approved by the Congress in the Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations bills related to the transfer or release of detainees. These safeguards included a prohibition on the transfer or release of detainees in the U.S. except for the purposes of prosecution, and a prohibition on granting detainees’ asylum, refugee status, or any other immigration benefit.  In addition, your budget also proposes to lift the requirements that the President submit to the Congress a detailed plan and risk assessment regarding each detainee it plans to bring to the U.S. for prosecution or detention, as well as the requirement that the Attorney General provide advance certification to the Governors of the impacted States that the detainees do not pose a risk to the United States.
            Given the serious national security questions and the lack of transparency surrounding the proposed closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, we have growing concerns with the Administration’s aggressive campaign to transfer Guantanamo detainees to other countries.  
Based on press accounts, over the last 16 months, the Administration has transferred 66 detainees to other countries, including at least seven to Afghanistan, seven to Yemen, and two to Somaliland.  These transfers have been done under a cloak of secrecy with notifications sent to Congress in classified form – which ensures that most Members and the general public will remain unaware of the actions being taken – despite the fact that much of the information in the notifications is derived from unclassified sources.  In addition, the required Congressional notifications have failed to include explanations of the findings of the Administration’s detainee reviews, or any other information used by the Administration to conclude that a given detainee could safely be transferred without posing a threat to the U.S. or our troops on the battlefield.  We are also concerned by recent news that the Administration may be preparing to lift the temporary ban on transferring detainees to Yemen, and taking steps to proceed with the transfer of a large number of Yemeni detainees back to their troubled home country.
The detainee transfers have occurred, and continue to occur, at a time when the number of former detainees suspected or confirmed to have returned to terrorism is growing.  In a January 2010 letter from Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan to Speaker Pelosi, we learned that the recidivism rate of previously released detainees has climbed to 20 percent – to over 100 terrorists – well above the 14 percent figure Congress was given in the summer of 2009. 
However, the accuracy of these numbers is unclear, and we fear that the number of detainees released and returned to terrorism may be even larger.  For example, we know that these numbers do not include Abdul Hafiz, who was released from Guantanamo to Afghanistan along with 3 other detainees in December of 2009.   In March 2010, Newsweek reported that, according to three U.S. counterterrorism officials, Hafiz had already returned to the battlefield to fight with Taliban insurgents.  If these accounts are true, this former detainee returned to the fight within less than four months of his release. 
It is also unclear whether these figures include the following Guantanamo Bay detainees reported in the media to have returned to the battlefield:
·         Said al-Shihri and Mohammed Al-Oufi –These two former Guantanamo Bay detainees who, after completion of the Saudi Rehabilitation program, announced on January 23, 2009 that they had returned to Yemen to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Press reports indicate that Said al-Shihri is now the AQAP’s second in command is believed to be behind the car bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa in September of 2008 which killed 16 people, and may have had a role in the Christmas Day bombing plot.  These two individuals are among 11 former Guantanamo detainees included on the Most Wanted List released by the Saudi Government in February 2009.
·         Abdul Qayem Zakir – This former detainee is reported to have been appointed second in command of the Taliban by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, replacing Abdul Baradar who was arrested by Pakistani forces in Karachi in February.  According to reports by Newsweek, a spokesman for the Taliban indicated that this action was meant “to convey a good message that, despite our leader's arrest, the Taliban is back to business-as-usual operations without a problem."
            We all acknowledge that many detainees who returned to the fight were released based on assumptions by the previous Administration that they were no longer a threat or could be rehabilitated.  In hindsight, these assumptions have proven to be flawed.  The remaining population at Guantanamo is now believed to be comprised of individuals whose transfer or release would pose the greatest danger to our national security, and it is clear that sound national security policy dictates a constant re-evaluation of prior policies, lessons learned, and changes in circumstance. We have been disappointed to see the Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan, choose to engage in political posturing and public blaming of the previous Administration’s policies related to detainees, rather than have a serious dialogue with the Congress regarding this very critical national security issue.
General Jones, we believe it is incumbent on the Administration to reconsider its policy with respect to the detainees currently remaining at Guantanamo, and we ask that you:  1) recommend to the President an immediate prohibition on the transfer of detainees to the U.S. or any other country; 2) halt any activity related to the closure of Guantanamo while an overall re-evaluation can take place, including input and participation of the Congress.  Specifically, we believe the Administration should remove its pending request for almost $1 billion requested in FY 2011 to pay for the costs associated with moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States for indefinite detention or trial.  Additionally, now that the Detainee Review Task Force has completed its work and disbanded, we request that you immediately transmit to the Congress a complete report on the work of the Task Force including the findings and recommendations for the disposition of each detainee case, since such information is being used as the basis for all decisions being made with respect to each detainee.
It is essential that we work together – across branches of government and across the aisle – to thwart terrorism in our homeland and around the globe. The American people are depending on us to make decisions that will stop dangerous terrorists in their tracks and keep our families and communities secure. We cannot and must not let them down.
Thank you for your timely response to our request.
Jerry Lewis
C.W. Bill Young
Harold Rogers
Frank Wolf
Kay Granger
Michael Simpson
Zach Wamp
cc:  Secretary Robert Gates, Department of Defense
       Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair
       Attorney General Eric Holder
       Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Department of State
       Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security

112th Congress