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In Keeping His Pledge to Empty Out GITMO, Obama Releases Hardened Al Qaeda, Other Jihadists Pentagon Deemed Most ‘High Risk’

During the last two months, the Obama administration — in its continuing effort to close down Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GITMO) — has released four more Al Qaeda members the Pentagon earlier repeatedly considered to be a “high risk” of reengaging in jihad iffreed.

The latest detainee released, Saudi-born British resident Shakir Abd Al Rahim Muhammad Aamer, had been “assessed to be a high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies,” stated a leaked JTF-GITMO assessment report about him.

The Pentagon’s reasons for his continued detention was because he “is a member of Al Qaeda, with significant ties to senior level extremists, to include Usama Bin Laden … held a senior level position among the UK based Al Qaeda cell, is a reported facilitator, recruiter and financier and is associated with Al Qaeda cells inside the US. Detainee was an assessed combatant sub-Commander in Tora Bora where he participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces,” and “has lengthy ties to militant jihad and has received basic and advanced training, to include explosives training.”

According to his previously secret Guantanamo case file, he “admitted” associating with “Shoebomber” Richard Reid, and was a roommate of Zaccarias Moussoui, the convicted 9/11 plotter.

Furthermore, Aamer “has shown a willingness to become a martyr for his cause.”

His leaked JTF-GITMO assessment disclosed that he “has expressed a desire to become a martyr and gave indications of attacking US citizens upon release,” and that … he would be happy to be a martyr for his religion.”

He also stated “the United States would, and should, fall because it has become an unjust nation and God would take his revenge on the United States for the unlawful imprisonment of innocent Muslims just as himself.”

He further “stated it was honorable that the insurgents in Iraq were willing to give their lives for what they believed was a noble cause.”

Then Guantanamo commander, Rear Admiral Mark H Buzby, detailed DoD’s concerns that Aamer would seek to launch a terrorist attack against the United States if he were ever to be freed in his November 1, 2007 JTF-GITMO assessment report.

In January, Obama stated he would ‘prioritize’ the release of Aamer, who other GITMO detainees consider to be their leader, and who was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007, at the same time the Pentagon said he should remain under DoD detention because of the “high risk” he posed to the US, its allies and interests.

But that same year, the British Foreign Office said Aamer should not be freed because of “significant additional security concerns.” Nevertheless, he was subsequently cleared for release in 2010 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force in which six US intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI, reputedly agreed he no longer posed a threat to the United States or its allies.

In a letter from the then UK Foreign Secretary William Hague to Aamer’s lawyer, Aamer had apparently only been cleared for transfer back to his native Saudi Arabia.

But under the terms of his release, he is being transferred to British security authorities instead.

The British-based Save Shaker Aamer compaign has long alleged that, “The Guantanamo files confirm that Guantanamo is a colossal crime against humanity committed against those who were rounded up as part of the frantic search by the US for intelligence on Osama Bin Laden. They are victims, expendable in the pursuit of vengeance for 9/11.”

In November 2014, an Al Jazeera report stated, “Cleared for release for more than seven years, Aamer should be freed immediately.” He was among dozens of detained jihadists the American Civil Liberties Union stated Obama approved for release in 2012.

The release of Shalabi

Abdul Shalabi, who is believed to have been a bodyguard for Bin Laden, was transferred to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, the Defense Department announced last week.

Shalabi’s transfer from Guantanamo is the third detainee released in less than a week, leaving 114 former “high-value targets” still in custody.

On June 15, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) review consisting of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, determined continued law of war detention of Shalabi “does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.

As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, Shalabi was recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board,” the Pentagon announced.

The PRB process was established by Obama’s March 7, 2011 Executive Order 13567.

In accordance with statutory requirements, the secretary of defense informed Congress of the United States’ intent to transfer Shalabi and of his determination that this transfer meets the statutory standard.

In 2007 and again in 2008, JTF-GTMO recommended Shalabi continue to be detained under DoD control primarily because he “has familial ties to Usama Bin Laden and has demonstrated his hatred for Americans at JTF-GTMO and will likelyreestablish ties to Al Qaeda and other extremist elements if released,” stated his leaked classified JTF-GITMO file.

The same 2008 file also reasoned that he “will require a long-term, dedicated plan to solicit information of intelligence value.”

Shalabi “is a member of Al Qaeda and a long-term bodyguard for Usama Bin Laden, serving in that position beginning in 1999,” his secret 2008 PRB report disclosed, noting he’d “received specialized close combat training for his role as a suicide operative in an aborted component of the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks.” He also “participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces and was captured with a group referred to as the Dirty 30, which included [Bin Laden] bodyguards and an assessed 20th September 11, 2001 hijacker.”

He also “received basic militant and advanced training at Al Qaeda associated training camps.”

The Department of Defense transfered Shalabi to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, saying, "The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

The first release since September

The first detainee released since September was Libyan national Omar Mohammed Khalif Abu Bakr, who’d been determined by the JTF-GITMO PRB that detaining Khalif “is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRB said Abu Bakr’s deteriorating health and “constructive role in the detention environment” are factors in the administration’s decision to order his release.

“While the board acknowledges the detainee’s past terrorist-related activities and connections, it found that the risk the detainee presents can be adequately mitigated,” the PRB concluded — a decision glaringly at odds with past recent decisions that Abu Bakr should remain in DOD custody because of the “high risk” danger he was assessed to pose to the US and its interests.

Chekkouri’s release

Earlier, Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri was transferred from GITMO to Morocco.

Agence France-Presse reported there’s no indication whether Chekkouri will be imprisoned in Morocco, put under house arrest or simply set free. He was not immediately freed upon arrival in Morocco.

The Pentagon said Chekkouri was sent home to Morocco following a "comprehensive" PRB security review. But in 2007, and again in 2008, JTF-GITMO stated Chekkouri should continue to be detained under DoD control because, “If released without rehabilitation, close supervision and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law-abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would probably seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities.”

“Since his transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee has been somewhat compliant with the guard force, but has one incident of threatening to kill a guard. He is non- cooperative with debriefers and withholds information of intelligence value, probably indicating his continued support for Islamic extremism,” a leaked secret 2008 JTF-GITMO report on Chekkouri stated.

Continuing, the formerly “secret” report said he “co-founded the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (GICM) and served as the head of its Military Commission.”

He also “formerly oversawGICM operations in Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey. Detainee is assessed to have been a close Usama Bin Laden associate who played a central role in coordinating mutual support between the GICM and Al Qaeda, to include providing GICM fighters to support Al Qaeda combat operations in Afghanistan and terrorist attacks in Europe.”

GICM is believed to be responsible for deadly bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and Madrid in 2004.

Chekkouri also was “assessed to have engaged in hostilities against US and Coalition forces as the GICM senior commander on the Bagram front lines and at Tora Bora, and was captured with other extremist fighters fleeing Tora Bora. Detainee ran the Moroccan Training Camp at the Derunta Training Complex and trained militant fighters in explosive detonators, chemical weapons and military tactics at the Algerian Guesthouse in Jalalabad [Afghanistan] and at Derunta. Detainee has familial ties to the GICM and Al Qaeda members, including former JTF-GTMO detainees who have attempted to reconstitute the GICM.”

In 2008, he was “assessed to be a high risk who is likely to reaffiliate with the Al Qaeda network as a senior commander and resume hostilities upon release.”

Nevertheless, the Pentagon said the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of his case, and that as a result of that review — which examined a number of factors, including security issues — Chekkouri was unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.

"The United States coordinated with the government of Morocco to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures," a Pentagon spokesman said.

The others

A week after the one-year travel ban expired for the five “high risk” former top Taliban- and Al Qaeda-linked Guantanamo detainees who were exchanged for captured US Army Sgt. Robert Bergdahl (allowing the Taliban jihadists to return to Afghanistan and rejoin the jihad against the West and America), the Obama administration released another six “high risk” Yemeni Al Qaeda operatives to Oman in a move that infuriated both Republicans and Democrats, as lawmakers ruminate new restrictions on further transfers.

Yemen is home to Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The transfers of the Yemeni detainees were made in spite of the fact Obama’s own intelligence advisors confirmed one-third of released detainees have re-engaged in jihad.

Homeland Security Today reported in-depth in its January 22, 2015 report, There Will be Blood: Freeing the Vilest of the Vile from GITMO, that the five senior Taliban- Al Qaeda-linked detainees the administration released in June 2014 were freed because the administration has consistently claimed that the remaining GITMO detainees – the last and most dangerous of whom pose a high risk of re-engaging in jihad — is because “GITMO continues to inspire violent acts around the globe.”

“We are committed to closing the detention facility. That’s our goal and we are working toward that goal,” Ian Moss, a spokesman for the Department of State on GITMO issues has said.

In his January 20, 2015 State of the Union address, Obama stated, “As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice. So it makes no sense to spend $3 million per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit. (Applause). Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GITMO in half. Now it is time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close GITMO. (Applause).”

Yet, in November, 2012, the Obama administration pressured Iraq not to release senior Hezbollah leader Ali Mussa Daqduq — who’d been captured by US troops in Basra on March 20, 2007 and eventually turned over to Iraq for prosecution — because the administration believed he’d likely commit more acts of terrorism against US forces if he were released. The US said the Hezbollah operative was guilty of kidnapping, torturing and murdering US soldiers in Iraq. Two Iraqi courts found him not guilty and ordered his release against the US’s wishes.

The contrast to the administration’s release of potentially dangerous Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives – both organizations share the same goal; global jihad – couldn’t be any more glaring.

Indeed. Officials said there’s a high recidivism rate among the most hardened jihadists so far released. If that’s true, then the release of Taliban and Al Qaeda members this year whom the Department of Defense declared several times should not be released because of the risk they pose, is at odds with Obama’s executive order “to effect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained and promptly close” GITMO in a manner that’s “consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price repeated Obama’s argument that keeping GITMO open gives Islamist jihadists a reason to carry out attacks against the United States.

“As the president has repeatedly made clear, the administration is determined to close the” facility, Price said. “We are taking all possible steps to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and to close the detention facility in a responsible manner.”

"It is not in our national security interest to continue to detain individuals if we as a government have determined that they can be transferred from Guantanamo responsibly,” stated said Ian Moss, who works on detainee transfers at the State Department.

Analysis

“Not in our national interest to continue to detain them?” sarcastically quipped one of several counterterrorism officials Homeland Security Today earlier interviewed on background because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter.

This “doesn’t seem to me to be consistent with protecting our national security … or, as the President said in his State of the Union address, working responsibly to cut GITMO’s population!” the official said.

“There’s just not much intel to back up [the administration’s reasoning] for letting these terrorists loose. There’s just not,” another one of the counterterrorism officials earlier expressed to Homeland Security Today.

“So, let me get this straight; releasing hardened, devoutly Islamist jihadists – the true believers whose minds aren’t going to be changed — is going to stop Al Qaeda, its affiliates, ISIS and other jihad groups and organizations to suddenly stop recruiting and carrying out jihad? That’s just messed up,” another official stated.

Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated in a joint statement last year that the administration’s release of so many of the most dangerous jihadists “may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans.”

The war on terror has reached a lethal phase, and it is insane to be letting these people out of GITMO to go back to the fight,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“It’s extremely troubling that the Obama administration has sent six dangerous terrorists to Oman, which borders Yemen — a country engulfed in civil war and that serves as the headquarters for Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

But, "Even more disturbing,” Ayotte said, “is the fact that the administration has not provided sufficient assurances to Congress or to the public that these terrorists will not return to the battlefield. If they are not securely detained, no one should be surprised if they travel to Yemen and re-engage in terrorist activities," she said.

Following the administration’s June release of five top Taliban leaders who are among the fundamentalist group’s most extreme and dangerous as part of a prisoner exchange for Bergdahl, Homeland Security Today Contributing Writer Godfrey Garner (who retired from US Special Forces in 2006 having served two military tours and six civilian government related tours in Afghanistan) wrote, “Professionals in the Intelligence Community are convinced these men will return to the religiously mandated jihad against America and will be welcomed back with open arms, free to renew their formal ties with Al Qaeda. And in light of their ‘heroic’ time in enemy captivity, they will be hailed as idols seen as having been victorious against America. Fueled by their stature and their renewed commitment to jihad, they will be an asset to Al Qaeda/Taliban anti-America efforts.”

“While the political implications of their release will be debated for some time, the truth about what their release means is nothing short of prophetic. Few can argue that their return to jihad is anything but a foregone conclusion,” Garner stated. “Their release and perceived victory will be used by Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders to strengthen the morale and commitment of their fighters and girder the already growing jihadist infrastructure in the region.” And, “This reinforced foundation will in time serve as an impetus that will result in a resurgent terrorist base of operations in Afghanistan as well asother Al Qaeda bases of operations in the region.”

In other words, the administration’s release of admittedly dangerous Islamist jihadists has become a far better recruitment tool than the administration’s reason for shutting down GITMO in the first place, if intelligence authorities are correct, and it would increasingly appear they are.

With that said, it’s very likely more than just a few of the Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees recently released from GITMO will soon appear on jihadi recruitment posters … and on the field of battle against the US and the West.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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