Guantánamo

Lawmaker: Intel shows Gitmo transfers aiming to rejoin fight

In this Jan. 7, 2016, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 7, 2016.
In this Jan. 7, 2016, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 7, 2016. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A key U.S. lawmaker warned Tuesday that new intelligence shows former detainees released recently from the Guantánamo Bay detention center are trying to return to terrorism.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said his committee had received a “troubling new report” from the U.S. intelligence community about detainees recently transferred to foreign countries. He said the report also showed that detainees were recently transferred to a country poorly equipped to stop them from returning to battle.

Only 9 of the 161 detainees transferred the Obama administration – or 6 percent – are confirmed as having re-engaged, although more are suspected of having done so.

“In light of this dangerous revelation, I again ask that you immediately halt all transfers from Guantánamo Bay and take steps to secure former detainees who pose a threat to U.S. national security,” Royce said.

Despite the long-running protestations of Republicans, Obama is expected to continue whittling down the prison’s population in his final days in office.

A senior Obama administration official declined to provide details on the intelligence assessment that Royce cited, but said the administration takes any signs of recidivism “very seriously” and works to stop it through military, law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic means. The official wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

The U.S. opened the prison at a U.S. naval base in Cuba to hold militants suspected of ties to al-Qaida and Taliban after the 9/11 attacks. Most were never charged with a crime. But their indefinite detention and mistreatment in early days of the prison triggered a global outcry that Obama has argued undermines U.S. national security.

Although Royce argued the recently released detainees were part of a broader pattern of former Guantánamo detainees pursuing a return to terrorism and posing a continuing threat to the U.S., the Obama administration had disputed that charge.

Click here for a list of the 55 captives currently held at Guantánamo Bay.

Royce didn’t name the country to which the detainees were transferred, and his office declined to provide more details, citing the classified nature of the intelligence report. In recent months detainees have been sent to Saudi Arabia, Camp Verde, Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates.

Royce sent a copy of his letter to President-elect Donald Trump, who has called for a halt of releases from Guantánamo Bay.

Most of the 693 detainees formerly held at Guantánamo were transferred under President George W. Bush. Of Bush’s transfers, 21 percent are confirmed by the U.S. as having re-engaged in the fight. Only 9 of the 161 detainees transferred by Obama — or 6 percent — are confirmed as having re-engaged, although more are suspected of having done so.

Closing the prison was a key Obama campaign promise that he was never able to fulfill, stymied by opposition by Congress, which refused to allow Obama to transfer detainees to prisons in the U.S. In a bid to empty the prison out, Obama tried to transfer as many as possible to third countries willing to accept them.

The current population stands at 55, including 19 cleared for release.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

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