Obama’s major speech outlining the Administration’s counter-terrorism policy on Thursday marked a win for al-Qaeda, according to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
Chambliss’ comments referred to the president’s proposed changes to detention policy, which included asking the Department of Defense to find a place to conduct trials of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay inside the United States, lifting a moratorium on transferring Gitmo detainees to Yemen, and attempting to transfer all of the prison’s detainees that’ve been cleared for departure back to their home countries as part of an ultimate plan to shut down the Cuban site.
The senator suggested these measures constituted capitulation to terrorists:
The President’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory. Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit. We knew five years ago that closing Guantanamo was a bad idea and would not work. Yet, today’s speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen. With the recidivism rate now at 28% and the increased threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates, including in Yemen, GITMO must stay open for business.
There is clear evidence that the military prison makes for an effective recruiting tactic for al-Qaeda, even in 2013. As former Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander puts it, “the longer it stays open the more cost it will have in U.S. lives.”
Chambliss’ reference to “harassment” likely referrs to recent hunger strikes over conditions in the military prison. So far, the military’s response to the hunger strikes has been force-feeding the prisoners; detainees describe “the experience of having the [force-feeding] tube snaked down your throat as being like having a razor blade pulled down.” The detainees are striking in responses to searches of cells that they say involved guards mishandling Qu’rans.
The DNI’s office has only “confirmed” that 16.1 percent of released detainees (97 people) have engaged in terrorist activities after release, while it “suspects” another 11.9 percent have. The New America Foundation’s independent estimate finds, by contrast, that the confirmed number is only four percent, and the suspected number a scant 4.7 percent. Most of these transfers occurred during during the Bush Administration, with Congess’ consent.
The label “recidivism” is also somewhat misleading, as it implies that all released inmates were definitively engaged in some form of terrorist activity before being thrown in Guantanamo. Former Bush Administration official Lawrence Wilkerson estimates that 50–60 percent of Guantanamo inmates were innocent of any crime before being detained indefinitely without charge.