Military intelligence officials have quietly told Congress they advised against transferring 25 of the 60 Guantanamo Bay terror detainees deemed eligible for relocation by the Obama administration, including five who are considered to be highly dangerous and likely to return to the battlefield.
But the Defense Intelligence Agency officials did not raise any formal objections with the administration because they concluded the decision to move prisoners already had been made, according to a letter Sen. Tom Coburn, a member of the intelligence committee, sent Tuesday to Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.
In the letter, obtained by The Washington Times, the Oklahoma Republican senator questions whether the White House put political considerations ahead of national security.
“The DIA told the committee that DIA has not objected to the release of many rank-and-file members of terrorist organizations ‘due to an explicit understanding that many detainees were destined to be transferred out of GTMO regardless of intelligence-based objections,’ ” Mr. Coburn wrote.
“DIA’s admission that it is not objecting to the release of some members of terrorist organizations due to a belief that policy considerations will outweigh intelligence concerns is highly troubling and highlights the need for the committee to hear from your office about the judgments of all agencies on this matter,” Mr. Coburn wrote.
The DIA did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment. But a spokesman for the DNI, the nation’s top intelligence official who reports directly to the president, said the intelligence community’s job is to provide information and evaluation, and not to step into political debates.
“The intelligence community provides independent, objective intelligence analysis to policymakers without regard to political considerations,” said Michael Birmingham, the spokesman.
“The intelligence community is contributing, along with law enforcement and the military, relevant intelligence assessments and information to the president’s task force responsible for producing current, individual evaluations of Guantanamo detainees. The task force will consider information from all sources in determining the suitability of each detainee for release, transfer, prosecution or other disposition, consistent with national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”
President Obama’s pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison thrust into the spotlight the question of what to do with the 232 detainees remaining in U.S. custody. At his request, an interagency task force led by the Justice Department was formed in February to review the case of each detainee and make a recommendation regarding final disposition.
While Mr. Obama and others have argued that the prison has become a harmful symbol that terrorists use as a recruiting tool, some Republicans have accused the administration of seeking to close a state-of-the-art facility merely to placate critics abroad.
A spokesman for Mr. Coburn declined to comment on the letter.
In the letter, Mr. Coburn said the committee was briefed by Mr. Blair on Feb. 12 and that he sent follow-up questions on March 3. He said that three months after those questions were submitted, the ones concerning Guantanamo Bay detainees and a separate Yemeni government program to rehabilitate former Islamic fundamentalists were never answered.
In the questions he submitted in March, Mr. Coburn asked specifically whether the intelligence community provided an assessment for each detainee who could be released. He also asked for an accounting of whether the intelligence community had warned against the release of any of the dozens of already-transferred detainees who have since returned to the battlefield.
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said that if elected he would close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and two days after taking office issued an executive order carrying out that pledge, giving a one-year deadline for its closure.
Polls show that a majority of Americans are opposed to closing the prison and moving the detainees to the U.S., with some potentially standing trial in U.S. courts, and state offficials have lined up to oppose having any of the detainees moved to their jurisdiction.
Congressional Democrats last month refused to appropriate the funds to close the prison until the administration comes up with a plan for the detainees.
The debate has been complicated by the threat of recidivism. In March, the DIA estimated that as many as 74 of 530 former Guantanamo detainees, or 14 percent, were either confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorist activities after being transferred from the prison.
Of that number, 27 cases were substantiated by a “preponderance of evidence” - including fingerprints, DNA, conclusive photographs or corroborated intelligence reporting - while 47 were suspected based on significant or “single-source but plausible reporting.”
One of the confirmed cases of detainees returning to the battlefield is the self-proclaimed head of al Qaeda in Yemen, Said Ali al Shihri, a former inmate who appeared in a video for the terrorist organization in January. He was repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani this week became the first detainee transferred to the U.S. to stand trial. On Thursday, four Chinese Muslim detainees were sent to Bermuda as another detainee was sent to Chad and another to Iraq. It is not clear whether those seven are among the 60 detainees identified by the Obama administration as being eligible for transfer.