The Obama administration has quietly released another round of terrorist detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as it proceeds with plans to empty out the facility.
All 10 detainees released Thursday were reportedly from Yemen, which is in a state of chaos amid a fight for power among various Islamic jihadist factions. They were released to the neighboring country of Oman and critics say they will likely be back on the battlefield soon fighting for al-Qaida.
The news was greeted with alarm on Capitol Hill, given the host country’s nearness to al-Qaida’s most active branch.
Earlier in the week Fox News reported the administration would also release Muhammad Abd al-Rahman Awn al-Shamrani, 40, who is considered a “high-risk prisoner,” back to his native Saudi Arabia. This is part of a separate deal with the desert kingdom, the Clarion Project reported.
Al-Shamrani is on record as vowing to “kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan,” if he was ever let go from the prison.
The prison camp at Gitmo is now down to 93 inmates. It once held as many as 779 after being opened in 2002 following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the launching of President George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”
Clare Lopez, vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy and a former CIA operations officer, said the Obama administration’s release of dangerous jihadists from Guantanamo was done “with no regard for the high likelihood that they will return to jihad as soon as they can is extremely irresponsible and puts American national security interests at risk.”
She said the 10 newest releases represent “some of the worst of the worst — Yemeni jihadis — to go to Oman, which is right next door to the war-torn base of operations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and is practically guaranteed to augment Islamic terror forces there, probably sooner rather than later.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, released a statement Thursday on the Obama release of the 10 Gitmo detainees to Oman.
McCaul’s emailed statement was sent under the title: “What Commander in Chief would let the enemy go? Answer: President Obama.”
“President Obama’s rush to open the jail cells at Guantanamo Bay is reckless, and it puts the American people in danger,” McCaul said. “This month he will have released close to 20 percent of the facility’s population, even though intelligence officials suspect nearly one third of terrorists freed from the facility have returned to the fight.”
McCaul said the problem is that, in Obama’s mind, the U.S. is not at war with Islamic-inspired terrorists. He continued:
“What commander in chief would let the enemy go back to the battlefield in the middle of a war? But that’s just the problem. The president does not believe we are at war, and in his State of the Union Address he downplayed the danger from ISIS killers ‘on the back of pickup trucks’ and plotting ‘in apartments or garages.’ The president forgets that ISIS alone has now been linked to more than 20 attack plots in our homeland. This should not just be a wake-up call — it should be a call to action. Sadly, the president seems more focused on letting terrorists loose than on rounding them up.”
The Omani Foreign Ministry reportedly described the move as a “temporary stay.” Fox News reported that Oman received a $51 million shipment of TOW missiles from the U.S. in return for taking the 10 terrorists, although the Pentagon denied that the missile deal had anything to do with the acceptance of prisoners.
A total of 29 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been confirmed or suspected of returning to the battlefield, according to a 2015 report by the Director of National Intelligence.
Lopez said one previously released Gitmo detainee is the current leader and spokesman for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“One wonders if the example of Ibrahim al-Qosi, released from Guantanamo in 2012 and now an AQAP leader and spokesman, is the White House model for a cynically politicized program to close the detention center no matter the damage to U.S. or Western security interests,” she said.
One of the more notable Gitmo releases came in May 2014. That’s when Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released by Taliban authorities as part of a prisoner exchange for five Taliban members who were being held at Gitmo.
On December 14, 2015, the U.S. Army announced Bergdahl would be tried by general court-martial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
This week’s transfer of 10 prisoners is the largest batch of detainees shipped out of the Cuba prison camp so far this year. It is part of a wave of transfers as the administration steps up efforts to shrink the prison population, with the ultimate goal of closing the facility despite congressional resistance.
Fox News reported earlier this week that the 10 detainees were slated for transfer, but the destination at the time was not known. The state-run Oman News Agency published a brief statement Thursday morning saying the detainees had arrived in Oman.
The Defense Department subsequently announced the transfer, and identified the detainees, late Thursday morning, saying the administration coordinated with Oman to ensure the move was conducted with “appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”
According to a statement, Defense Secretary Ash Carter notified Congress in advance. The Pentagon said the individuals “were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force,” and said the government is “grateful” to Oman for its “humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., slammed the transfer issuing the following statement:
“Any Obama decision to transfer a large number of detainees from Guantanamo to Oman would represent a thinly veiled attempt to undercut the will of Congress and would further endanger the American people.”
The transfers are part of an administration effort to bring down the prison camp’s population as much as possible. Fifty-nine prisoners, however, currently are not eligible for transfer abroad, and the administration is trying to figure out what to do with them.
Though Congress has blocked transfers to the United States, the Pentagon nevertheless has conducted a series of site surveys of prisons in the U.S. in the past few months.
Last summer the Pentagon floated the possibility that the remaining prisoners could be sent to U.S. military prisons in Kansas or off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. That elicited an anger response from both the governors of both those states.
President Obama reiterated his goal of closing the camp in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.