The U.S. State Department has branded a detainee the Bush administration released in 2004 a global terrorist, prompting a renewed call from Congress to freeze transfers from the last 76 captives here.
“It’s time for the president to halt all releases, and fundamentally reassess his plan to close the terrorist prison,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-California in a statement. “Dangerous jihadists are being released to countries with little intention of controlling them. And once again, it appears the results have been disastrous.”
Dirat Vakhitov, about 38, got to Guantánamo on June 13, 2002, and the prison commander recommended his release to Russian incarceration six months later, according to a prison profile provided to McClatchy by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks organization.
Thursday, the State Department published in the Federal Register that Secretary of State John Kerry declared him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on June 29, calling him Ayrat Nasimovich Vakhitov and several other pseudonyms. One day earlier, three militants struck at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, killing 44 people and wounding hundreds more.
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The Voice of America reported July 5 that Vakhitov was among 30 suspects rounded up and detained in Istanbul on suspicion of involvement in the June 28 attack at Istanbul’s main airport. Vakhitovs’s 2002 prison profile said U.S. intelligence assessed him to be “neither affiliated with al-Qaida nor as being a Taliban leader.”
The State Department Wednesday called him “a foreign terrorist fighter from Tatarstan, Russia who has fought in Syria” and “also used the internet to recruit militants to travel to Syria.” It called him an associate of the Chechen-led, Syria-based Jaysh al-Muhajireen Wal Ansar, which the State Department declared a terrorist organization in 2014.
Vakhitov’s 2002 Guantánamo prison profile said he had fled Russia for Tajikistan late in 1999, and was captured in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It noted that Russian intelligence officers interrogated him Nov. 14-19, 2002.
The prison commander wrote at the time that “the information obtained from and about him as not valuable or tactically exploitable.” Court records show Vakhitov was among seven captives the United States turned over to Russia on Feb. 27, 2004, all believed to be Russian citizens.
A March 2007 Human Rights Watch report condemned the transfer, quoting Vakhitov as saying, “We all asked not to be returned to Russia because we were afraid of torture.” It said the Tatar and other six spent nearly four months in the detention facility in Pyatigorsk, in southern Russia, and were released “on June 22, 2004, because of lack of evidence.”
A State Department official, speaking on background, acknowledged that Vakhitov was among 532 detainees released from Guantánamo by the Pentagon “during the George W. Bush administration” but defended the Obama-era reviews that have released about 160 detainees as using a more thorough “inter-agency process.”