WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following recent comments by President Barack Obama reaffirming his commitment to closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN-02), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote to the president reminding him of the serious threats released detainees pose to the national security of the United States.
During an interview last week, the president said, “Out of four-, five-, six-hundred people that get released…a handful of them are going to be embittered and still engaging in anti-US activities.”
Walorski wrote, “The Director of National Intelligence…identified 196 former detainees as either being confirmed or suspected of returning to the battlefield…That’s a recidivism rate over 30 percent – this is hardly a handful… It is disturbing that your administration seems to continue underestimating the danger posed by former Guantánamo detainees returning to battle. One more terrorist on the battlefield is too many because one more terrorist can be all it takes to cause more death and destruction. I strongly urge you to reconsider such consistent downplaying of this threat.”
The letter in its entirety is included below or can be read here.
Dear President Obama:
I write with grave concerns about statements you made regarding the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba during a recent interview with Yahoo News. In particular, I was troubled by your comments on recidivism and on the process for selecting detainees for release.
In the interview, you said of released detainees re-entering the fight: “Out of four-, five-, six-hundred people that get released…a handful of them are going to be embittered and still engaging in anti-US activities.” However, the Director of National Intelligence identified 196 former detainees as either being confirmed or suspected of returning to the battlefield in its September 2015 Report on the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. That’s a recidivism rate over 30 percent – this is hardly a handful.
At the heart of the issue, however, is not the rate of recidivism, but rather its intensity. One of the 196 is Ibrahim al-Qosi. He was released in July 2012 to his home country of Sudan, a country designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the State Department. Since his release, he has become a senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which took credit for the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015. A month later, Vincent Stewart, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before Congress that AQAP “remains committed to attacking the West.” We may disagree over what constitutes a handful, but we cannot underestimate the difference another set of hands can mean to these terrorist organizations.
The fact that al-Qosi was released to live in a US government-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism is troubling enough, but comments you made in the interview concerning the release vetting process prompts more questions than it answers. On that topic, you said:
“The judgment that we’re continually making is: are there individuals [in Guantánamo] who are significantly more dangerous than the people who are already out there who are fighting? What do they add? Do they have special skills? Do they have special knowledge that ends up making them a significant threat to the United States?”
Accordingly, I would like to request a classified briefing on how the administration has been evaluating the remaining detainees for release. Specifically, I would like the briefing to address:
1.What criteria, quantifiable or otherwise, are used to determine if a detainee is more or less dangerous than those currently on the battlefield
2.The groups or specific individuals currently on the battlefield that detainees are being compared to in order to make those determinations
a. If the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or its leaders are part of this set, please also detail how the weight given to the threat they pose has changed since January 2014
3.How the special skills and knowledge are defined and quantified
4.Any additional scrutiny given to detainees being released to State Sponsors of Terror]
It is disturbing that your administration seems to continue underestimating the danger posed by former Guantánamo detainees returning to the fight. One more terrorist on the battlefield is too many because one more terrorist can be all it takes to cause more death and destruction. I strongly urge you to reconsider such consistent downplaying of this threat and I look forward to your timely response.
Member of Congress
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District in Indiana, where she serves as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and House Committee on Agriculture.