A recently leaked threat assessment prepared at Guantanamo draws into question the Obama administration’s analysis of a detainee who was transferred to Yemen shortly before all future transfers to the unstable nation were suspended.
On December 19, 2009, the Obama administration transferred six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. One of them was a longtime confidante of Osama bin Laden named Ayman Batarfi. The decision to transfer Batarfi proved to be controversial.
Less than one month after the transfer, during a congressional briefing on January 13, 2010, Congressman Frank Wolf questioned President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, about the decision to transfer Batarfi. Wolf was especially perplexed since military and intelligence officials had concluded that in addition to being a longtime, committed jihadist with ties to the most senior al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Batarfi also had knowledge of al Qaeda’s anthrax program.
Brennan decided to answer Wolf’s challenge by sending a letter on White House stationary to then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi on February 1, 2010. ABC News obtained a copy of the letter and published it online. Brennan wrote:
During the briefing on January 13, Representative Wolf made allegations that one detainee repatriated to Yemen had been involved in weapons of mass destruction. As it has done in every case, the task force thoroughly reviewed all information available to the government about this individual and concluded that there is no basis for the assertions Representative Wolf made during this session. I am attaching a classified addendum to this letter that addresses these concerns directly.
But a recently leaked April 29, 2008 threat assessment prepared by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) contains numerous references to Batarfi’s ties to al Qaeda’s anthrax program. These connections were made through a known al Qaeda front named al Wafa, which employed Batarfi and provided cover for al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 pursuit of an anthrax capability.
The leaked assessment contains these lines in its executive summary (note: “Detainee” refers to Batarfi):
Detainee acknowledged associations with numerous senior al-Qaida members including Usama Bin Laden (UBL) and provided assistance to Yazid Sufaat, one of al-Qaida’s anthrax researchers in Afghanistan who also has ties to the 11 September 2001 attack.
Yazid Sufaat was, in fact, al Qaeda’s chief anthrax scientist. Another passage reads (emphasis added):
Detainee was the chief medical advisor for the al-Wafa NGO. Detainee and al-Wafa provided assistance to al-Qaida including assistance to personnel tied to the anthrax research program. Detainee is associated with UBL and other senior al-Qaida leadership, and is listed on al-Qaida documents.
In still another passage, intelligence officials explained (emphasis added):
Detainee and al-Wafa provided support to al-Qaida including its anthrax research program. …While serving as al-Wafa’s chief medical advisor, detainee offered al-Wafa’s services to one of al-Qaida’s key anthrax researchers, Yazid Sufaat, aka (Abu Malik). Detainee met Yazid Sufaat in August 2001, at the Hajji Habash Guesthouse in Kandahar. They proceeded to the al-Wafa office where they discussed Yazid Sufaat’s request for assistance in purchasing laboratory equipment. Detainee told Yazid Sufaat when he traveled to Karachi to contact the al-Wafa office there for assistance in purchasing these items. Detainee also stated he instructed Jamil Qasim in the Karachi office to allocate $4,000 to $5,000 US to assist Yazid Sufaat in purchasing these items.
Batarfi “denied any knowledge al Wafa’s involvement with biological weapons” during questioning at Guantanamo. But on at least one occasion, according to the leaked file, he slipped up. “I am not the only one who knows these things,” Batarfi said, in reference to al Qaeda’s anthrax program and other biological and chemical weapons efforts. (An astute analyst remarked in the file: “Detainee’s statement that he is ‘not the only one’ who knows about the biological weapons is a contradiction to his statement that he had no knowledge of them.”)