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Advocacy Group Says Release of ‘High Risk’ Guantanamo Detainees Warrants Veto of Defense Bill; But Veto May Not be so Easy

Advocacy Group Says Release of ‘High Risk’ Guantanamo Detainees Warrants Veto of Defense Bill; But Veto May Not be so Easy Homeland Security TodayThe Constitution Project said this week that the Senate’s passage of the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 (HR 1735) must be vetoed by President Obama because the joint House conference report “contains the most comprehensive set of obstacles to closing Guantanamo ever adopted.”

Twenty-one Senate Democrats voted for the NDAA adopting the conference report accompanying House Resolution 1735. The conference report is the final version of a bill negotiated between Senate and House conference committee. The House approved the NDAA with a 270-156 vote, 20 short of a veto-proof majority.

The bill was sent to Obama, who previously threatened to veto it, but with so many Democrats having voted for it with a veto-proof majority, Obama could find it difficult to veto.

The group stated, “It bans all transfers to the United States,” and, “It reinstates highly restrictive overseas transfer requirements rejected by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2014 and FY 2015 versions of the NDAA, and for the first time introduces several other country-specific prohibitions.

Constitution Project President Virginia Sloan said in a statement that, "It is essential that President Obama carry out his threat to veto the legislation. The conference report contains onerous and unwarranted restrictions on the transfer of even detainees already cleared for release from the Guantanamo detention facility. Although it is significant that large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate backed provisions in the legislation preventing a return to torture in future administrations — provisions that must remain in any final version of the bill — the president must insist that the transfer restrictions be removed before signing the NDAA into law."

In April 2013, the Constitution Project Task Force on Detainee Treatment issued a report on the treatment of suspected terrorists across the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

In a statement, the organization stated, “Members of the task force made a series of recommendations aimed at safeguarding against a return to government-sanctioned torture and abusein the face of a future crisis. One recommendation was to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Another was to tighten US laws against torture. Section 1045 of the conference report accomplishes the latter and must remain in whatever version of the NDAA President Obama ultimately signs into law.

In keeping his pledge to empty out GITMO, Obama has released the most hardened Al Qaeda, Taliban and other jihadists the Pentagon had decided no longer posed a high risk of re-engaging in jihad against the US, the West and apostate Muslim countries – although only a few years earlier they’d repeatedly determined that these jihadists should remain in detention under DoD custody.

Homeland Security Today disclosed that in recent months the Obama administration — in its continuing effort to close down Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GITMO) — released four Al Qaeda members the Pentagon earlier repeatedly considered to be a “high risk” of reengaging in jihad if freed.

The latest detainee released, for example, 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.

Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inofe (R-Okla.), a 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 questionable prisoner exchange for Army Sgt. Robert 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,” Godfrey stated, “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. 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, Garner said, “This reinforced foundation will in time serve as an impetus that will result in a resurgent terrorist base of operations in Afghanistan as well as other Al Qaeda bases of operations in the region.”

The administration’s release of admittedly dangerous 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.

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, Garner said.

Despite the concerns of veteran counterterrorism officials and members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, 54 of the remaining 114 high risk, high value detainees have been cleared for immediate transfer by unanimous consent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, the State Department, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

Among the provisions in HR 1735 putting restraints on dealing with remaining GITMO detainees, the House conference report:

  • Prohibits use of funds to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house detainees transferred from GITMO;
  • Limitations on transfer or release of individuals detained at GITMO;
  • Reenactment and modification of certain prior requirements for certifications relating to transfer of detainees at GITMO to foreign countries and other foreign entities;
  • Authority to temporarily transfer individuals detained at GITMO to the United States for emergency or critical medical treatment;
  • Prohibition on use of funds for transfer or release to Yemen of individuals detained at GITMO;
  • Report on current detainees at GITMO determined or assessed to be high risk or medium risk;
  • Report to Congress on memoranda of understanding with foreign countries regarding transfer of detainee;
  • Semiannual reports on use of GITMO and any other Department of Defense or Bureau of Prisons prison or other detention or disciplinary facility in recruitment and other propaganda of terrorist organizations; and
  • Extension and modification of authority to make rewards for combating terrorism.

The House conference report also requires the President to submit a report on individuals detained at GITMO to certain members and committees of Congress, to include in the reporting requirement a summary of all contact between individuals formerly detained at GITMO and individuals known or suspected to be associated with a foreign terrorist group, and whether any of those contacts included information or discussion about hostilities against the United States or its allies or partners.

Also required is “the summary of contact between individuals contain any means of communication, including but not limited to telecommunications, electronic or technical means, in person, or written communications. Additionally, the summary of contact between individuals shall include all contact, regardless of content.”

In addition, “the report should account for all former Guantanamo detainees who have been in contact with individuals known or suspected to be associated with foreign terrorist groups regarding hostilities against the United States or its allies or partners regardless of whether the former detainee has been determinedto be suspected or confirmed of reengagement using definitions established by the US Intelligence Community.”

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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