- - Tuesday, August 9, 2016


A former Guantanamo detainee now going by the name Abu Mugheera al-Britani wrote in a new issue of English-language al Qaeda magazine Al-Risalah that he was now “sitting in the blessed land” of Syria, “reflecting on those weeks and days spent behind bars.”

“I thank Allah for releasing me and providing me with the opportunity of carrying out jihad in his path again,” the terrorist noted at the end of a pages-long description of being captured in Pakistan after Sept. 11, 2001, a graphic narrative of what he says was torture and Koran disrespect at the hands of “evil” Americans at the prison camp in Cuba.

In the issue, al Qaeda ticks off the number of detainees who have been behind bars at Gitmo, the number remaining, and the number cleared for release but still detained.

In al-Britani they add another number: former detainees who have returned to the fight and use their stories as terror spokesmen.

President Obama wants to liquidate this prison — and fast — because Congress is standing in the way of closure before his second term is up. But the pace of the lame-duck Gitmo liquidation could alone give a boost to terror recruitment.

With the July 11 transfer of two more detainees to Serbia, the population is down to 76. At the beginning of Mr. Obama’s first term there were 242 detainees at Gitmo, as the White House frequently notes.

The details of some of the Obama administration’s Guantanamo transfers have immediately heightened concerns about security risks, such as entrusting detainees to Sudan dictator Omar al-Bashir, who is the subject of a warrant from the International Criminal Court on multiple counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The White House has made the argument that the need to wipe its hands of Gitmo is such a pressing national security imperative that it must shed every inmate who may have been deemed a high threat just a matter of years ago but eventually got cleared for release. The terms of resettlement are often hazy, and known details are fodder for congressional hearings.

But the message that the United States is sending with the rapid-fire transfers — akin to “someone just take this problem off our hands, please” — is music to a terrorist recruiter’s ears.

“This is consistent with the president’s strategy that we are going to continue to do everything possible to try to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the day of the Serbia transfer announcement, stressing that the unrelenting drive to reduce the population there “is motivated by the president’s conclusion that to keep the prison of Guantanamo Bay open only gives a rhetorical weapon to terrorists that we know use the prison in Guantanamo Bay as a recruitment tool.”

The administration argument that the existence of Guantanamo aids in terrorist recruitment is correct in that it feeds terror groups’ narrative that a throw-away-the-key war on Islam is afoot. However, the rapid liquidation of Guantanamo sends a message even more harmful to global security. It aids in terrorist recruitment by feeding the narrative that with enough pressure or political motive, America will just want to push the problem off to someone else.

In fact, there may be no greater recruiter nowadays than Ibrahim al-Qosi of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Now going by Sheikh Khubaib al-Sudani, he’s a veritable Gitmo “Shawshank Redemption” tale to inspire jihadists: an al Qaeda paymaster and Osama bin Laden aide who beat the system, struck a Gitmo plea bargain, got a transfer to Sudan in 2012 and — voila! — joined AQAP in 2014.

Al-Qosi appeared in a 2015 video calling all to commit lone jihad. In May’s issue of AQAP’s English-language Inspire magazine, he stressed that jihadists “cannot establish an Islamic state until total meltdown of America.” He reminisced about his time with bin Laden and detailed how they picked the “generous” Sept. 11 hijackers, selecting by criteria that included their “accessibility and security cover.”

In his mid-50s, this former detainee may not be planning to suicide-bomb a soft target, but his propaganda jihad could be more damaging as he sends the message that America, with enough perseverance and pressure, will want to wipe its hands of the problem.

There are other potential pitfalls to please recruiters in the “please take our terror suspects, quickly” liquidation strategy. When detainees are deposited in unfamiliar lands with little support, there could be a greater chance that they’ll return to the familiar, like a gang member who’s consistently being reminded that the crew is his “real” family. Take Uruguay, where former detainees transferred in 2014 camped in protest outside of the U.S. Embassy last year with an anywhere-but-here, even Syria, demand. That six-pack transfer hasn’t been the resettlement program’s finest hour: Two detainees were arrested on domestic violence charges after marrying locals, and last month one detainee said he was going to a religious retreat and dropped off the map.

But even setting aside the potential return to jihad of Gitmo detainees and the natural recruitment boost in recidivism — just ask al Qaeda and al-Qosi — the mere message sent by the 11th-hour liquidation plays right into terrorists’ hands.

Terror attacks aren’t without an endgame. The goal is to beat America into weary submission to Shariah law and a caliphate. The consistent refrain in recruitment materials is that jihadists won’t get tired, but America will. Begging countries to take terror suspects to fulfill as much of a political vow as possible before the next Inauguration Day reinforces that narrative.

Bridget Johnson is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

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