Quite intentionally, the Obama administration is making so many radical moves on so many different fronts simultaneously that it’s difficult to stay on top of them all, much less give them the attention they deserve. But while we argue health care and Iran policy and a civilian trial for KSM and the decision to transfer enemy combatants to a U.S. prison, it’s important to notice how dangerously irresponsible the administration’s obsession to close Gitmo has become, and how tawdry the Justice Department is allowing itself to appear.
Not content with the Friday bad-news dump, the administration announced on the Sunday before Christmas that it had transferred a dozen detainees out of Gitmo. On its face, this is alarming enough. The Bush administration, it is freely conceded, released many enemy combatants, including many who obviously should have been continued in detention and who have gone on to rejoin the jihad and commit horrific acts of terrorism. That’s how we got from about 800 detainees down to about 200. But there’s a big difference.
The original 800 included some marginal figures (to hear the Left tell it, all the detainees were shepherds indiscriminately swept up by the Northern Alliance to win bribe money from the CIA). But now we are down to a much smaller core group — detainees whose cases we’ve had years to study and whom we’ve held despite enormous pressure to release them. These are the worst of the worst. We have an absolute right under the laws of war to hold them, and when one of them gets sprung it’s cause for grave concern.
But the release announced this past weekend is just appalling. The twelve detainees have been transferred to: Yemen, an al-Qaeda hotbed whose government makes common cause with jihadists (and has a history of allowing them to escape — or of releasing them outright); Afghanistan, which is so ungovernable and rife with jihadism that we’re surging thousands of troops there (troops the jihadists are targeting); and Somaliland, which is not even a country, and which offers an easy entree into Somalia, a failed state and al-Qaeda safe-haven. At least one of the released terrorists, a Somali named Abdullahi Sudi Arale (aka Ismail Mahmoud Muhammad), was released notwithstanding the military’s designation of him as a “high-value detainee” (a label that has been applied only to top-tier terrorist prisoners — and one that fits in this case given Arale’s status as a point of contact between al-Qaeda’s satellites in East Africa and Pakistan).
And then there is the appearance of impropriety. As Tom Joscelyn explains, the Justice Department has taken the lead role in making release determinations — the military command at Gitmo has “zero input” and “zero influence,” in its own words. DOJ is rife with attorneys who represented and advocated for the detainees, and, in particular, Attorney General Holder’s firm, represented numerous Yemeni enemy combatants. Does Justice not appreciate not only how perilous but how unseemly it appears under the circumstances for it to be leading the charge to release the Yemeni detainees? And could anyone really believe that the supposedly noxious symbolism of Gitmo is more dangerous to Americans than is deporting terrorists to the places where terrorism thrives?