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A Few Bad Men

The Obama administration’s ­astonishing decision to send six Gitmo terrorists to Yemen.

Jan 18, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 17 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Last Tuesday, President Obama updated the American people on the progress of the “security reviews” he had ordered administration officials to perform in the wake of “the failed attack on Christmas Day.” The president spoke of the “corrective actions” that would be taken so that another bomber with explosives sewn into his underwear could not board a U.S.-bound plane. He trumpeted the security measures he had ordered and said:

Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. So let me be clear. It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected. 

With respect to Yemen in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the Attorney General, and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

 The Christmas Day attack was planned by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is headquartered in Yemen. AQAP is one of al Qaeda’s strongest branches outside of South Asia.  

Nearly half of the detainees remaining at Guantánamo are Yemeni. The Yemeni government has a horrible track record when it comes to keeping tabs on terrorists. So Republicans in Congress have argued that repatriating the Yemenis will simply bolster AQAP’s ranks. President Obama was clearly sensitive to all of this when he spoke last week. 

But he and his administration were not nearly as sensitive to it before Christmas Day. 

On December 19, 2009, the Obama administration transferred six detainees to Yemen. Only one Yemeni had been repatriated during the previous 11 months—and the Bush administration, which made many of its own mistakes with respect to detainee transfers, had only repatriated a handful of Yemenis over several years. (At least one of them has since returned to terrorism.) But the Obama administration was confident. The New York Times on December 19 cited a “senior administration official” who said the White House was “gaining confidence in Yemen’s willingness to handle returning detainees.” And at the beginning of last year, in January 2009, Obama’s ambassador to Yemen, Stephen Seche, had said the administration intended to repatriate “the majority” of the Yemenis at Guantánamo.

That plan now seems to be on hold.But the question remains: Who are the six former detainees who were transferred in December? The Obama administration refuses to say. During a press conference on January 8, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blunted any inquiry by saying, “I’m not going to get into discussing transfers.”

The Doctor. Ayman Batarfi has been a committed jihadist for decades. After fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, he became an orthopedic surgeon and lent his skills to al Qaeda and the Taliban. He tended to wounded -jihadists -during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. During his administrative review board hearing at Guantánamo, Batarfi made a number of admissions, including that he met with Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora (when the terror master was the most wanted man on the planet) and had authorized the purchase of medical equipment for a “Malaysian microbiologist.” This was Yazid Sufaat, who was the head of al Qaeda’s anthrax program. Batarfi also worked for al Wafa, a “charity” that was an al Qaeda front. Both the United States and U.N. have designated al Wafa as a terrorist entity.

The Money Man. Jamal Muhammed Alawi Mari was among the first men taken into custody after the September 11 attacks. Mari was arrested on September 23, 2001. Pakistani officials found a suitcase filled with clothes and $11,300 in cash in his possession and boxes containing “lists of chemicals and pharmaceuticals and handwritten notes regarding the characteristics of different military weapons, explosives and attack scenarios.” It was an interesting collection for a man who claimed he was just a charity worker.

Like Batarfi, Mari worked for al Wafa, although he denied this during his hearings at Guantánamo. According to the U.S. government’s unclassified files, Mari was chosen to head al Wafa’s branch in Karachi, which worked closely with the Taliban in funneling supplies and weaponry into Afghanistan. Mari reported to the head of al Wafa, who had close ties to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. 

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