Less than two weeks ago, the Obama administration repatriated to Yemen six detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. It was a test. About 90 of the 200 or so remaining Gitmo detainees are Yemenis. The president would like to move toward fulfilling his promise to close Gitmo, and thus to appease the antiwar Left, by transferring most of those Yemeni jihadists back home.
On Christmas Day, we got yet another indicator of how reckless this obsession with closing Gitmo is. A well-to-do Nigerian jihadist, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, tried to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying 289 passengers and crew, as it was preparing to land in Detroit after a flight from Amsterdam. The 23-year-old Mutallab attempted to ignite an incendiary chemical bomb, the components of which he assembled in flight after smuggling them onto the aircraft. He reportedly confessed to the FBI that he had been trained and tasked for the operation by al-Qaeda in Yemen.
ABC News reported on Monday that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — a merger of the network’s formidable hubs in Yemen and neighboring Saudi Arabia — has claimed responsibility for the attack. Hailing Mutallab as a “hero” and “martyr,” the organization boasted of its success in designing “advanced explosive packages” that can evade U.S. security measures. It promised additional strikes against Americans.
There is abundant reason to credit the mutually reinforcing claims of collusion by Mutallab and al-Qaeda. Certainly, they are more believable at this time than the groundless assertion from the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, that Mutallab is not part of a broader terrorist conspiracy. That lone-wolf theory echoes the preposterous “no terrorism here” assurances the secretary offered after the Fort Hood massacre, notwithstanding solid links between the shooter and an al-Qaeda recruiter. It is nearly as absurd as Napolitano’s assertion that “the system worked” against the Christmas Day strike. The system did anything but work: It is already clear that a parade of governmental incompetence enabled Mutallab to board the plane with minimal screening, even though U.S. authorities were aware of his radical leanings. The terrorist was thwarted, not by the system, but by the actions of the passengers and crew.
There will be time in the days and weeks ahead to assess the leadership of Obama’s national-security team. There will also be opportunity to discuss the prudence of immediately handing Mutallab over to the criminal justice system rather than treating him as an enemy combatant and interrogating him about ongoing plots. What should not wait another day, however, is for President Obama to disavow his plan to shutter Guantanamo Bay.
The chieftains of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) currently include at least three Gitmo alumni who have returned with a vengeance to the jihad. Said al Shihri, AQAP’s second in command, is a former Gitmo detainee who is believed to have been behind the 2008 attack on the American embassy in Sanaa. Gitmo veteran Ibrahim Rubaish is the Islamic jurisprudential authority responsible for approving AQAP terrorist operations. Muhammad Attik al-Harbi became an AQAP field commander after being released from Gitmo on the promise that he’d be rehabilitated in the Saudi re-education program — a scheme premised on the dubious notion that terrorists can be wooed away from jihad by immersion in Wahhabist principles. (Al-Harbi is reportedly back in Saudi custody, undergoing re-re-education.)
AQAP’s senior operatives also include Anwar al Awlaki, the Muslim cleric with whom Nidal Hassan consulted in the months before carrying out the Fort Hood massacre. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that at least some of the former Gitmo detainees in Yemen are complicit in the Christmas Day attack, and that they are planning similar strikes. It is incredible that the administration would even consider adding to their ranks. Yemen’s record of permitting jihadists (including the bombers of the U.S.S. Cole) to escape from custody and rejoin the fight is appalling. The country is the ancestral home of the bin Laden clan, and it teems with cells attached to AQAP — Sunni jihadists with whom the Yemeni government, despite its pose as an American ally, makes common cause in combating an ongoing Shia insurgency.
The remaining Gitmo detainess are among the worst of the worst: The Obama administration continues to hold them, despite enormous pressure from the president’s political base, because they pose a grave danger to American national security and cannot be relocated to any responsible country. The 600 presumably less dangerous detainees already released from Gitmo have exhibited an alarmingly high incidence of return to the battle, endangering our armed forces as well as civilians such as the passengers on Northwest Flight 253. To spring any of the last 200, at this time, would be irresponsible.
The administration concedes that we are a nation at war; the laws of war permit the detention of enemy captives until the conclusion of hostilities. Guantanamo Bay, which the administration acknowledges to be a first-rate, Geneva Conventions–compliant facility, is the best location we have for holding these jihadists — offshore and under military guard. It is specious to continue portraying Gitmo as a catalyst of terrorism: We have to detain enemy combatants somewhere, and, wherever we do it, the jihadists and their apologists will claim that the detention causes terrorism. Common sense says that a terrorist at large in Yemen is apt to inflict a lot more terror than a terrorist locked up in Gitmo.
Though it is rife with critics who defamed Gitmo and ginned up pressure to release its prisoners, the Obama administration did not release the detainees now in control of AQAP. That was done on President Bush’s watch, albeit under pressure from congressional Democrats and ceaseless litigation. Obama is politically positioned to better withstand such pressure, but, by stubbornly pressing ahead with the repatriation of the most dangerous detainees, he threatens to endanger our national security. In his remarks Monday, the president explained that he has ordered a review to determine what went wrong on Christmas Day, so we don’t repeat our mistakes. Here’s an easy call that requires no extensive investigation: Let’s stop releasing terrorists.