Jake Tapper of ABC News has obtained a copy of a letter John Brennan, the assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism, sent to congressional leaders Monday night. Brennan defends the administration’s efforts to close Guantanamo in the letter. While conceding that the number of former detainees who are “confirmed” or “suspected” of returning to terrorism has risen to 20 percent, Brennan says that all of the recidivists were released during the Bush years. Brennan goes on to argue that the Obama administration has made “significant improvements to the detainee review process,” implying that it is being more careful in determining which detainees can be transferred or released than its predecessor.
In the middle of his letter, Brennan inserts this curious paragraph:
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.
Brennan is referring to a Yemeni named Ayman Batarfi, who the administration repatriated to Yemen in December of last year. (I’ve written about Batarfi previously. See, for example, here and here.)
Brennan’s characterization of Batarfi is surely wrong. Congressman Wolf got it right. And you don’t need classified information to see that Wolf has the better of the argument.
The key is Batarfi’s involvement in al Qaeda’s efforts to develop anthrax. Intelligence authorities at Guantanamo consistently and repeatedly found that Batarfi played a role in al Qaeda’s anthrax program while working for al Wafa – a “charity” that is really a front for al Qaeda. (Al Wafa has been designated an al Qaeda entity by both the U.S. and the UN.) During a hearing at Gitmo, Batarfi conceded he worked for al Wafa.
An October 31, 2005 memo prepared for Batarfi’s first administrative review board (ARB) hearing at Gitmo says Batarfi “met a Malaysian microbiologist in Kandahar at the Haji Habbash guesthouse” in mid-August 2001. “The microbiologist wanted to equip a lab and train the Afghans to test blood.” The authors of the memo added: “The same microbiologist was involved in developing anthrax for al Qaeda.”
A November 28, 2006 memo contains the same allegations.
So does a December 28, 2007 memo, which adds (see the bottom of the page here and the top of the page here) that Batarfi “told another al Wafa employee to purchase four to five thousand United States Dollars worth of medical equipment for that individual” – that is, “the microbiologist who was involved in developing anthrax for al Qaeda.”
The same December 28, 2007 memo also includes this sentence, in reference to Batarfi:
“The detainee was identified as being a past participant in Al Qaeda’s anthrax program and as having ties to al Qaeda.”