The press has highlighted several documents from the latest WikiLeaks cache that deal with the Obama administration’s attempts to close Guantanamo. The administration can’t close Gitmo without transferring a large number of the remaining detainees to other countries. But its efforts in this vein have borne only some fruit -- not nearly enough to get the job done.
As of January 2009, when President Obama took office, there were approximately 240 detainees at Gitmo. The administration has transferred only about 66 detainees since, according to data compiled by the New York Times. In addition, one detainee was transferred to the U.S. to stand trial and another committed suicide. This leaves the administration with just over 170 detainees, or more than 70 percent of the detainee population inherited from the Bush administration.
So, it is not surprising to find that the administration has been trying anything it can think of to get countries to take in more detainees. The New York Times reports:
Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”
Kiribati, it should be noted, apparently did not agree to the deal. The island nation of Palau did agree, however, to accept some of the “Chinese Muslim detainees” and that agreement was almost certainly tied to a multi-million dollar aid package. The Times does not tell readers who the “Chinese Muslim detainees” are, but they are members and allies of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party (ETIP), a designated al Qaeda affiliate. All of them were trained by a top al Qaeda operative named Abdul Haq in a training camp at Tora Bora.
The Obama administration’s Treasury Department designated Abdul Haq a senior terrorist before his demise in February 2010. Haq was killed in a predator strike authorized by the Obama administration. This, coupled with the administration’s Gitmo diplomacy, is a source of irony.
Months after the Obama administration offered remote Pacific island nations millions of dollars to take in Abdul Haq’s trainees, Haq himself was killed by an American missile. We can kill ETIP members in northern Pakistan, but if America and her allies capture and hold them then we need to find a way – even an incredibly expensive way – to free them.
It is not clear why Belgium should think that accepting more Gitmo detainees is “a low-cost way” for it “to attain prominence in Europe.” Other European nations clearly do not view it that way. Of the Obama administration’s 66 or so detainee transfers, only about 30 of them have been to European nations. (This is, again, based on data compiled by the New York Times.)
After years of clamoring for Gitmo to be shuttered, then, European nations have been reluctant to help the Obama administration accomplish just that.
Only three detainees have been transferred to Belgium, and only one of these by the Obama administration. That detainee is a Syrian named Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al Janko, whose detention was controversial for a number of evidentiary reasons I won’t get into here. Al Janko, according to Reuters, is currently suing Defense secretary Robert Gates and other “current and former officials under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama” because he claims he was tortured while at Gitmo. U.S. officials dispute al Janko’s allegations, claiming they are simply trumped up.
Regardless, here we find another source of irony in the Obama administration’s Gitmo diplomacy. Is al Janko helping Belgium “attain prominence in Europe” by suing American officials?
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.