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Next Big Issue: Obama Should Release the ‘Cleared’ Guantanamo Detainees


There’s some underreported anger from the Left at President Obama over the release of the five detainees in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. To sum it up, they question why these high-value detainees were released before those already “cleared” for transfer, with the implication being that “cleared” is the same as innocent.

Some headlines:

Clive Stafford Smith, Al Jazeera: At Guantánamo Bay, the guilty go free, the innocent remain

Cori Crider, The GuardianForget the ‘Taliban Five’ – Obama’s real chance is to free Gitmo’s Cleared 78

Natasha Lennard, Vice News: The Gitmo prisoner exchange puts deals above grim justice

And I had this exchange on Twitter last night with Glenn Greewald over the detainees left at Guantanamo:

Greenwald followed up later:

“Cleared for release,” however, is not the same as innocent — not even close. Here’s the language from the 2010 Final Report of the Guantanamo Review Task Force that makes clear what “cleared” actually means (Page 17):

That link above from Greenwald directs to this McClatchy article on how Yemen is trying to get back its citizens from Guantanamo. The article tells the story of Abdulrahman al Shabati and how his incarceration is just a “case of terrible luck.”

This is actually a perfect example of how the Left is spinning “cleared for release.” Abdulrahman al Shabati, listed as Abd al Rahman Abdullah Ali Muhammad by the Department of Defense, isn’t cleared of wrongdoing as Greenwald would have you believe. The U.S. considers him a member of al-Qaida who participated in hostilities against U.S. forces and assessed him as a “medium” future risk to U.S. interests. Yes, he was cleared, but he was cleared “for continued detention” in Yemen, not freedom. (Page 10.) 

And with Abdulrahman al Shabati, Yemen admits in the article Greenwald linked to that they’re not ready to take detainees and need to create a detention/rehabilitation program before any transfer can take place:

[Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s minister of human rights] said her government is aware that the repatriation of detainees would ultimately prove a massive undertaking, requiring a large-scale rehabilitation program, aimed at reintegrating the returnees into Yemeni society. She said such a program also would have to reckon with any psychological effects of a decade-long imprisonment.

“Of course we will need money, we will need logistical support; of course we are committed to doing what’s necessary,” she said. “But also, the American government has a duty to support us.”

Is Yemen stable enough to supervise his continued detention? What will the rehabilitation program look like? Will it work? How much will it cost? There are no answers to those questions, and without answers, no transfer is possible. Those who want the detainees freed en masse need to admit that it’s a lot more complicated than some in the media would have you believe.

We’ll be hearing more about this in the coming days and weeks and it’s important to set the record straight. If anything, hopefully the trade for Bergdahl will force Congress and the president to figure out a solution to Guantanamo (which might mean authorizing funds to keep it open) once and for all before more dangerous detainees get released under less than ideal circumstances. 



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