- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2010


While Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s resignation and made her life more difficult through release of about 250,000 stolen U.S. diplomatic cables, when it comes to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, he has taken at least one item off her plate.

That is, the enormous pressure to help empty the detention facilities by resettling terror suspects to countries around the globe should be seriously deflated now. As if the task weren’t hard enough before, the Obama administration has transferred just 67 detainees in nearly two years. The embarrassing details emerging from talks with foreign governments on Gitmo will make any additional transfers nearly impossible and should place them on the back burner.

From a U.S. ambassador fawning over Moazzam Begg, an ex-Gitmo detainee and former al Qaeda recruiter, for “doing our work for us” to Slovenia’s talks on accepting a detainee in exchange for a meeting with President Obama, to Saudi King Abdullah’s proposal that detainees could be fitted with electronic microchips for tracking like “horses and falcons” - such unfortunate disclosures may dissuade diplomats from even talking about detainees.

Although both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations routinely emphasized the significant challenges in repatriating and resettling detainees, those proclamations received only slight media attention.

Simply stating that the United States asked 90 countries about resettling Guantanamo’s 22 Uighurs (a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority from western China) is not nearly as interesting as reading details from the embassy cables and CliffsNotes version printed in the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel.

Recalling Washington Post political cartoonist Tom Toles’ “Coalition of the Billing,” which referenced Iraq, the international haggling over whether to accept detainees, rehabilitate them, monitor them or incarcerate them usually came down to one question: “What’s it worth to you?”

The tiny Balkan nation of Albania received five Uighurs and a few other “difficult cases” in 2006 - then received a personal visit from President Bush in 2007 and subsequent admittance into NATO. For Kiribati, a small Pacific island country, discussions involved $3 million to take the remaining 17 Uighurs, a deal that was never sealed. Palau, another Pacific diving paradise, ultimately agreed to accept them - reportedly part of a $200 million defense agreement, although just six have been received to date.

Several years of negotiations involving Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the question of sending Yemenis through a lengthy and well-funded Saudi rehabilitation program or whether a similar model should be built in Yemen were never resolved, as the cables illustrate. (Saudi Arabian and Yemeni nationals historically made up the second- and third-largest populations at Guantanamo.) While the Saudis and Yemenis recognized responsibilities and seriously attempted to reach a solution, others calling for Guantanamo’s closure avoided any discussion of resettlements.

Ironically, Norway - the same country that awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize soon after he announced the closure of Guantanamo as his first act in office, described resettling detainees as “purely a U.S. responsibility.”

Afghanistan, the primary source of Guantanamo’s roughly 780 detainees, has seen 199 come home, while 20 remain. However, Afghanistan’s inability to stop ex-detainees from re-engaging in terrorism has complicated future releases. In one cable, U.S. diplomats in Kabul noted that the practice of giving men pretrial releases allowed “dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.”

The Defense Department’s latest published recidivism rate for ex-Gitmo detainees was at least 20 percent - meaning more than 120 are suspected or confirmed of having returned to terrorism.

Because these include Taliban and al Qaeda leadership figures such as Mullah Abdullah Zakir, the Taliban operations commander in southern Afghanistan, and Abu Sufyan Al-Shihri, who emerged as deputy commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one has to ask: Why the obsession with releasing Gitmo detainees?

In sum, the Bush administration wilted under pressure and decided to empty Gitmo, preferably by sending most detainees overseas. Mr. Obama then made it his No. 1 priority and set a firm closure date. Even though both backfired, enthusiasm for the effort continued.

The Bush team created an ad hoc, yet plausible, detention and interrogation center for the Islamic terror network that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, but then failed to defend it meaningfully against an ever-rising tide of unfair criticism.

Though he would not have imagined it, Mr. Assange just bought the remaining 174 detainees even more time in the Caribbean’s most famous lockdown.

J.D. Gordon is a communications consultant, retired Navy commander and former spokesman for the Defense Department on the Western Hemisphere.

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