EXCLUSIVE: Intel Report Confirmed 18 Freed Gitmo Detainees Returned to Terror--Including in Afghanistan--Before Obama Ordered Closing of Prison

September 1, 2010 - 4:51 PM
On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within one year--despite an intelligence report issued two weeks earlier that said 18 released Guantanamo detainees had returned to terrorism, including in Afghanistan.

In this photo May 14, 2009 photo, Guantanamo detainees pray before dawn near a fence of razor-wire inside the exercise yard at the U.S. Navy’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

(CNSNews.com) – On Jan. 7, 2009, less than two weeks before Barack Obama was sworn in as president, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report indicated that up until that date there had been 18 confirmed and 43 suspected cases of detainees who had been released from the Guantanamo Bay prison and who had returned to terrorism. The DIA released the report to CNSNews.com in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

An earlier DIA report (dated July 10, 2006), also released to CNSNews.com, had specifically predicted that some Guantanamo detainees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, if released, would return to fight U.S. forces in that region. "Former detainees who return to terrorism will continue to gravitate to their roots with those from Afghanistan/Pakistan returning to local anti-coalition activity," said the report.

The DIA prediction was derived from bitter experience. Yet another DIA report released to CNSNew.com indicated that three Guantanamo detainees repatriated to Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 had been "confirmed" as returning to terrorism.

One of these Guantanamo-released terrorists, Said Mohammed Alim Shah, ended up kidnapping two Chinese engineers and claimed responsibility for bombing a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, in October 2004. (Shah eventually would lead a suicide attack in April 2007 that would kill 31 people.) Another of the Guantanamo detainees repatriated to Afghanistan, Yousef Muhammad Yaaqoub, organized a jailbreak in Kandahar and was killed on May 7, 2004, while fighting U.S. forces. The third Guantanamo detainee, Mahommed Ismail, who was repatriated to Afghanistan in January 2004, later that year participated in an attack on U.S. forces in that country. 

In "confirmed" cases such as these, where DIA says a released Gitmo detainee has returned to terrorism, the agency reports that its evidence includes "fingerprints, conclusive photographic match, or reliable, verified, or well-corroborated reporting."
 
Nonetheless, on Jan. 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order calling for the closing of Gitmo within one year.

In the early weeks of the Obama administration, the DIA learned of additional cases of Gitmo detainees who were released and returned to terrorism.
 
On April 8, 2009, another DIA report stated that of the more than 530 detainees released from Gitmo since 2002, there were now 27 confirmed and 47 suspected cases of former detainees returning to terrorism. That means the DIA had confirmed an additional 9 recidivism cases, and discovered a net of 4 new suspected cases, since its Jan. 7, 2009 report.

The data in the DIA documents released to CNSNews.com show a terrorism recidivism rate of 14 percent for released Gitmo detainees.
 
On Jan. 15, 2010, CNSNews.com submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Defense Department, requesting "the most recent report regarding recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay. Specifically, this is for a report that provides information on terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay who were released and were caught or suspected of committing terrorist acts after their release.”
 
The Defense Department determined it possessed 43 documents responsive to CNSNews.com's FOIA request but that 33 of these documents could not be released. The department cited three exemptions under FOIA for declining to release the 33 documents. These included that the documents in question were "properly classified," that they pertained "solely to the internal rules and practices of the agency," and that they were "specifically exempted by a statute establishing particular criteria for withholding." In this case, the Defense Department said, the particular criteria for withholding the documents it did not release was a federal statute that "protects the identity of DIA employees and the organizational structure of the agency."

Each of the 10 documents the Defense Department did release to CNSNews.com were redacted to some degree.



In a speech at the National Archives on May 21, 2009--six weeks after the DIA had reported that there were 27 confirmed and 47 suspected cases of terrorists released from Gitmo who had returned to terrorism--President Obama affirmed his decision to close the prison and argued that doing so was good for national security.
Obama campaigns

President Barack Obama speaks in Seattle as part of a cross-country campaign trip on Tuesday, August 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“Instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause," Obama said. "Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.
 
“So the record is clear," said Obama. "Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security.  It is a rallying cry for our enemies.  It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries.  By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it.  That's why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign, and that is why I ordered it closed within one year.”

At the same time, Obama conceded in general terms that terrorists released from Guantanamo had indeed returned to terrorism--something he took care to point out had happened under the Bush administration. “[W]e are acutely aware that under the last administration, detainees were released and, in some cases, returned to the battlefield," he said.

To deal with the possibility that closing Guantanamo would result in additional terrorists being released to commit future acts of terrorism, Obama said he had a five-point plan. The first point was to try some of the Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts. The second pont was to try other detainees in military commissions, just as President Bush had planned to do and as the U.S. Constitution and law provides for in cases of unlawful enemy combatants.The third point was to release 21 Guantanamo prisoners who had been ordered released by civilian courts. And the fourth point was to transfer some Guantanamo prisoners to the custody of other countries, and trust those countries to properly detain and/or prosecute the prisoners. "So far, our review team has approved 50 detainees for transfer," Obama said.

The fifth point was simply to continue to imprison--but not at Guantanamo--prisoners that Obama feared releasing, could not or would not transfer to another country, and did not want to try in U.S. civilian court. 

"But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted [in civilian court] for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States," said Obama. "Examples of that threat include people who've received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States

"Let me repeat," said Obama. "I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people."

Republicans consistently have criticized Obama’s desire to close the Guantanamo prison without having a coherent and workable plan for dealing with the prisoners there.

“They get out; they go back,” Rep. Sue Myrick (R.-N.C.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNSNews.com. “How many times does this have to happen before you get the message? It’s very frustrating because they say they’re going to close it without knowing what they’re going to do with them. We know from what has been happening. The ones that are released are a challenge.”
 
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNSNews.com it is no surprise that these jihadists are returning to the battlefield.
 
“Some of us have been talking about this for a long time,” Franks told CNSNews.com. “Even in the latter part of the last administration, I talked about how these people were back on the battlefield after we turned them loose. And we thought these were the less dangerous ones. The ones left are the worst of the worst.”
 
As of today, more than a year and half since Obama signed his executive order to close the prison within a year, there are still about 240 detainees at Guantanamo.
 
The DIA reports say that they have “confirmed” that a released Guantanamo prisoner has returned to terrorism when: “A preponderance of evidence--fingerprints DNA, conclusive photographs match, or reliable, verified or well-corroborated intelligence reporting--identifies a specific former Defense Department detainee as directly involved in terrorist activities.”
 
A “suspected” case of recidivism, the DIA documents say, means: “Significant reporting indicates a former Defense Department detainee is involved in terrorist activities, and analysis indicates the detainee most likely is associated with a specific former detainee or unverified or single-source, but plausible, reporting indicates a specific former detainee is involved in terrorist activities."

In this image reviewed by the U.S. Military, a razor-wired fence is shown above the Camp Delta 2 and 3 base sign, in this June 25, 2005 file photo taken at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Haraz Ghanbari, File)

A July 10, 2006 DIA report said, “As more GTMO detainees are released to even more diverse locations, there will likely be a corresponding geographic growth of post-release terrorist activity. Former detainees who return to terrorism will continue to gravitate to their roots with those from Afghanistan/Pakistan returning to local anti-coalition activity, and those from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa plugging back into the transnational terrorist network they affiliated with prior to capture. Those returning to transnational networks are more likely to be involved in future major acts of terrorism.”
 
Since that July 2006 report was produced, at least nine additional prisoners released from Gitmo between July 2007 and April 2008, were confirmed or suspected of participating in terrorism, according to the DIA information obtained by CNSNews.com.
 
The July 2006 report also said, “Most detainee transfers/releases from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) during 2002-2003 were sent back to Afghanistan or Pakistan. Since 2004, a higher percentage of detainees from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East have been released. Available reporting indicates a corresponding increase in terrorist activity attributed to released GTMO detainees in those areas.”
 
Several DIA reports released to CNSNews.com further said, “In most cases, the time lapse between release and subsequent indications of post-transfer terrorist activity is approximately a year and a half, with reporting of such activity often lagging actual events by months or even years. Upon return, many detainees are held for varying lengths of time ranging from less than 24 hours up to several years. Due to reporting delay and general lack of information regarding former detainees, additional former GTMO detainees are likely to have been involved in subsequent terrorist activities.”
 
A single page was entirely redacted from a report obtained through the FOIA, except for the following words: “The Yemeni government remains averse to long-term incarceration of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay detainees.”
 
Rep. Myrick said she does not trust any of the home countries to keep the terrorists incarcerated.
 
“I don’t really trust them at all because we haven’t had a very good track record,” Myrick told CNSNews.com. “It’s the same old thing. To me, the decision was made before they knew what they were really going to do with these people. That’s part of the issue. What are they going to do with them? Nobody really knows.”
 
The numbers have gradually increased. A Dec. 4, 2007 DIA report stated there were 31 suspected or confirmed detainees who participated in terror. A May 12, 2008 DIA report showed 36 confirmed or suspected terrorists.
 
In addition to the three detainees repatriated to Afghanistan cited above, some of the released Guantanamo detainees whom the DIA confirmed to have returned to terrorism included:

--Abdullah Saleh Ali al-Ajmi, who was repatriated to Kuwait in 2005. In April 2008, he was confirmed to have conducted a suicide bombing in the city of Mosul, Iraq, killing several Iraqi citizens. 
 
-- Ibraham bin Shakaran and Mohammed Bin Ahmad Mizouz, were repatriated to Morrocco in July 2004. In September 2007, they were convicted for their post-release involvement in a terrorist network recruiting Moroccans to fight for al Qaida in Iraq.
 
-- Ibrahim Shafir Sen was repatriated to Turkey in November 2003. In January 2008, he was confirmed to have been arrested in Van, Turkey and later indicted for his role as a leader of the al Qaida cells in Van. Sen also recruited and trained new members, provided illegal weapons to the group and facilitated the movement of jihadists. 
 
-- Ravil Shafeyavich Gumarov and Timur Ravilich Ishmurat were repatriated to Russia in March 2004. Russian authorities arrested them in January 2005 for involvement in a gas-line bombing. A Russian court convicted both in May 2006, sentencing them to 13 years and 11 years respectively. 

--Shah Mohammed, who was repatriated to Pakistan in May 2003, and was later killed fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

--Abdullah Majid al-Naimi, who was repatriated to Bahrian in November 2005, was arrest in October 2008. He had been involved in facilitating terrorism and was known for his association with al Qaeda.