Pentagon Report Sheds New Light on Guantanamo Detainees
In the fall of 2015, President Obama signed a defense policy bill that included directions for the Pentagon to release a detailed report of the backgrounds of all the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Obama gave the Pentagon a deadline of January 24, 2016. That date was missed, but the report was delivered exclusively to Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a fervent opponent of Obama’s Guantanamo strategy, in June. On Tuesday, that report was released to the public.
The report includes the basis for the prisoners’ detentions, from low level to high level “indefinite detainees.” It includes backgrounds on the 107 prisoners detained at Guantanamo as of late 2015, when Obama signed the bill directing the report be compiled. At present, there are 76 prisoners left at Guantanamo, 34 of which have been cleared for transfer. One of Obama’s campaign promises was to close Guantanamo before his term ended, and some Republican lawmakers who oppose shutting down the prison see him as too quickly clearing prisoners for release in order to make good on that promise before January.
Ayotte has been calling for a single unclassified report on the Guantanamo prisoners for years. In an email to The Associated Press regarding the report, she said:
While the Department of Defense watered down information and failed to provide key details regarding some detainees, the report still provides Americans with a consolidated, unclassified source of information regarding the dangerous terrorists at Guantanamo who the administration has recently released or plans to release soon.
Among the high level suspected terrorists the report details Karim Bostan, a 13-year detainee, ran an al-Qaeda affiliated cell that targeted U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He has been cleared for transfer to a country outside the U.S. that is willing to accept him. Those negotiations are ongoing. The report also details the backstories of low-level detainees like Muhammad Said Salim Bin Salman. Detained in Guantanamo for 14 years, Bin Salman was suspected of traveling to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaida camp. The Yemeni native said he never fought, and was deemed a medium intelligence risk. He was transferred to Oman in January.
Ayotte might be one of the most vocal opponents of shuttering Guantanamo–a proposition also supported by George W.Bush–but she is hardly the only Republican opposed to closing the prison. They say it’s irresponsible and could result in former terrorists re-engaging in terrorist activities. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that five percent of detainees released under Obama have re-engaged in terrorism operations. Eight percent are suspected of re-engaging. Under Bush, 21 percent of released prisoners re-engaged and 14 percent were suspected of re-engaging. 500 prisoners were released or transferred under Bush and 162 under Obama.
At a Congressional hearing in March, Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s official on the Guantanamo closing, alluded to American deaths that have come at the hand of released prisoners, saying, “there have been Americans that have died because of Gitmo detainees.” It’s a contentious issue that will surely remain relevant for months to come, but for now at least, we have a bit more transparency than in the past.