- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015

When President Obama assured the nation in December that only “low-level” terrorists operatives are released from Guantanamo, he could not have been speaking of Ibrahim al-Qosi.

Transferred in 2012, al-Qosi has emerged as the face and voice of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group focused on attacking the U.S. homeland.

On Sunday, four days before crowds gathered in Western cities for massive New Year’s Eve celebrations, al-Qosi issued a chilling audio message urging Muslims to carry out deadly attacks on the U.S. and France, specifically in New York and Paris.

Al-Qosi was a personal aide to Osama bin Laden for over a decade in Sudan and Afghanistan. Rather than repentant, as his lawyer assured in 2012 as he left Cuba, he was a committed terrorist dedicated to global jihad.

His release is a warning that as Mr. Obama seeks to transfer more inmates so he can close the detention center built especially for terrorists, there are risks these detainees will go back to the killing business.

Mr. Obama, in an interview with Yahoo News in December, explained his philosophy about releasing Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremists. He said that if they don’t add to violent people already out there with some special skill, then they can be released to another country.

“The judgment that we’re continually making is, are there individuals who are significantly more dangerous than the people who are already out there who are fighting?” Mr. Obama said.

“What do they add? Do they have special skills? Do they have special knowledge that ends up making a significant threat to the United States?

“And so the bottom line is that the strategic gains we make by closing Guantanamo will outweigh, you know, those low-level individuals who, you know, have been released so far.”

The adjective “low-level” would not appear to apply to al-Qosi because he was a close confident of bin Laden’s and fought with him as the al Qaeda leader escaped from Tora Bora in 2001 as U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A special task force set up in 2009 to screen and categorize each detainee selected al-Qosi for prosecution. He pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge and was sent to Sudan, where he was supposed to be integrated into society.

But last month he provided stark evidence that his release was a failure. He turned up as a senior leader of AQAP, with special duties to attract recruits willing to kill.

On Dec. 27 AQAP released an audio message from al-Qosi. He praised Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s North Africa chapter, and vowed that attacks against America and France are coming.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) captured and translated the message.

Addressing AQIM terrorists, he said, “You are the guards of the western gate. You protect the religion and the honor, and you are the ones fighting the French and the Americans and those collaborators and traitors who follow them. You are exemplars of steadfastness and the masters of the mujahedeen.

“We will not let go of the West led by America until it stops supporting Israel and until it [the U.S.] stops occupying the lands of the Muslims,” he said.

Europeans, Westerns and Christians in New York and Paris, he said, “will not live in security at a time when our people in Palestine and elsewhere live in fear. If the enemy prolongs the war — we are more patient in it we will not abandon the jihad until we attain glory for this nation or perish.”

Al-Qosi is not the only prominent terrorist released by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Mr. Obama approved the release of five Taliban chieftains in exchange for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The five, who remain in Qatar, were deemed by the task force, among 48 detainees, as too dangerous to be transferred.

Another non-“low-level” detainee was Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a senior Taliban commander captured in 2001. The Bush administration released Khadim in 2007 to the Afghan government, which freed him in 2009.

Khadim quickly went back to war as a top field commander actively involved in killing U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. He then defected to the ultraviolent Islamic State, also known as ISIS, as deputy commander. The U.S. killed him in a Feb. 9 drone strike.

The administration argues that if the Taliban Five return to the battlefield, they face the same risk of assassination.

Mr. Obama, in the Yahoo News interview, also asserted that only a “handful” of detainees have gone back to terrorism.

The recidivism rate determined by the director of national intelligence (DNI) belies that description.

In its latest report this fall, the DNI said 117 inmates have been confirmed and 79 suspected of returning to terrorism. The 196 is a 30 percent recidivism rate that will likely grow as intelligence agencies track those released in recent years.

With 107 terror suspects remaining at Guantanamo, the administration has disclosed it has designated at least 48 as releasable to another country.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest says that the recidivism rate for inmates released by this administration is 10 percent. Experts say that number will surely go higher as intelligence agencies collect more information on those more recently released.

Of al-Qosi going back to terrorism, Mr. Earnest said, “Obviously, any report about a former Gitmo detainee re-engaging in the fight would be a source of significant concern and something that we would take quite seriously.”

Mr. Earnest also said, “There are currently 48 detainees whose case files have been carefully reviewed by national security professionals, and those professionals have determined that under the right circumstances, those 48 individuals could be safely transferred. And the U.S. government is working diligently to find countries who will work effectively with our national security professionals to put in place the appropriate security precautions to allow those individuals to be transferred.”

But what to do with future captives in what is a long war against radical jihadis?

The Obama national security team has a penchant for aerial assassination to kill terrorists as opposed to special operations strikes that could capture a high-value target alive.

There are a few exceptions. A terrorist suspected in the Benghazi attacks was snatched in Libya and brought to the U.S. The wife of an Islamic State leader was captured in a raid in Syria and is being kept in Iraq.

The administration is now searching for a U.S. maximum security site to hold what will likely be scores of inmates when Mr. Obama, as expected, decides he has the power to close Guantanamo, overriding laws barring him from doing so.

“The question we ought to ask is where we will send future battlefield detainees,” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer. “After all, the war on terror is far from over, and there will be many more bad characters captured. Do we dare turn the likes of ISIS terrorists over to the Kurds? Bang, shot in the head within five minutes of the handover. We need a place to warehouse terrorist killers. Granting them habeas corpus is wrongheaded, expensive and arguably dangerous for the American communities surrounding the stateside Supermax prisons.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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