Reading the newspaper is often a surreal experience these days, but I can’t recall my jaw dropping quite as far as it did when I read this piece in the Washington Post about how former Gitmo detainees “have led and fueled” the increasingly dangerous al Qaeda movement in Yemen.
The basic facts, though I already knew them, are stunning enough. Two key leaders of al Qaeda in Yemen — Said al-Shihri and Ibrahim Sulieiman Rubaish — were released from Gitmo (during the Bush administration, just to be clear). The group they lead is suspected of having equipped and trained the guy who, on Christmas, tried to blow up a plane full of passengers. Yet, the Obama administration has just released six more detainees to Yeman and apparently plans to release a significant number of additional ones to that chaotic nation.
I also knew that Shihri and Rubaish were released to Saudi Arabia for “rehabilitation.” But here’s something I didn’t know — according to the Post, the rehabilitation program “uses dialogue and art therapy to reform militants.” You can’t make this stuff up.
Now consider the spin from adminstration officials about the release of detainees to Yeman. One official told the Post that the six detainees had to be released because one of them had been ordered released by a federal judge and the case for indefinitely detaining the other five is weak. “We do not want a situation where the executive is defying the courts,” the official said. He added that the prospect of losing in federal court is likely to trigger other releases.
But the government does not “defy” the courts when it argues its position and pursues its appeals, and different judges view may view these matters differently. I’ve lost in federal court. There are worse experiences. The notion that the government would voluntarily release terror suspects and send them to Yemen, where al Qaeda seems to be surging, because it fears losing in court is, to me, mind-boggling.
Another adminstration official assured the Post that those who were just sent back to Yemen were carefully screened to assess their potential for being recruited by al Qaeda. But so were Shihri and Rubaish. As I noted here, the latter had assured his captors he could not consider the United States an enemy of Islam, since it is a friend of Saudi Arabia. He had also written nice poetry.
Bureaucrats who think art therapy “cures” terrorism cannot be trusted to assess the potential for detainees to be recruited by al Qaeda.
Finally, a third administration official told the Post that the Guantanamo Bay facility must be closed because its existence is a tool for recruiting new terrorists. But if that’s even close to being true, it must also be the case that anyone who has spent years in captivity at the facility is a potential recruit for al Qaeda (in the unlikely event they were not recruited long ago). Thus, the administration’s assessments that particular detainees lack that potential are inherently unreliable and, indeed, surreal.
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