Ten days after we learned that 61 inmates released from the Guantanamo Bay Naval facility have returned to terrorism, the New York Times profiles Said Ali al-Shihri, a former detainee who has risen to be deputy leader of al Qaeda in Yemen.
The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
On the plus side, the odds of a terrorist attack originating in Yemen actually killing Americans is nil. If nil is a synonym for totally plausible. On the minus side, his case once again demonstrates the rather prickly challenges we must overcome in defeating non-state aligned, ideologically-motivated Islamic terrorists in an asymmetrical war on terror.
It’s been quite easy to snipe at the Bush administration over how it handled un-uniformed, non-state actors captured on a global battlefield. But a new administration won’t magically make these issues vanish. Obama will have to deal with the same sort of characters while ensuring America remains safe. While not a perfect solution, Guantanamo has proven to be a valuable resource. Shuttering Gitmo only means people captured in battle must be shipped elsewhere.
It’s a huge stretch of logic to conclude non-state actors fighting out of uniform and captured in a foreign nation should be jailed domestically and have their cases heard in US civilian courts. Particularly in light of the fact US troops charged with crimes committed under similar conditions face a military tribunal.
One possible solution to the Guantanamo detainee conundrum would be a jobs/stimulus program to ensure they don’t end up down on their luck like Mr. al-Shihri:
However, under a heading describing reasons for Mr. Shihri’s possible release from Guantánamo, the documents say he claimed that he traveled to Iran “to purchase carpets for his store” in Saudi Arabia. They also say that he denied knowledge of any terrorists or terrorist activities, and that he “related that if released, he would like to return to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wherein he would reunite with his family.”
“The detainee stated he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store if it is still in business,” the documents say.Well hell’s bells, if Bush hadn’t wrecked the global economy this poor blighter would be quietly toiling away in the family business. Freaking Bush, is there anything he won’t do to make the Middle East miserable. But for a few Saudi stimulus checks go how many more?
Almost half the camp’s remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program
Yemen began cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism activities in late 2001. But the partnership has been a troubled one, with American officials accusing Yemen of paroling dangerous terrorists, including some who were wanted in the United States. Some high-level terrorism suspects have also mysteriously escaped from Yemeni jails. The disagreements and security lapses have complicated efforts to repatriate the 100 or so Yemenis remaining in Guantánamo.
Perhaps Obama will be more successful at sweet-talking or strong-arming nations like Yemen and Saudi Arabia when it comes to repatriating and monitoring their citizens currently housed at Guantanamo. Otherwise they will remain revolving doors for terrorism suspects. Seven-plus after 9/11, Saudi Arabia is – although perhaps not as overtly – spending billions around the globe to spread the most radical brand of Wahhabi Islam. Good luck to Obama, he’s going to need it.
As the Times says, the war on terror offers many potential complications for the incoming administration. Whether Obama’s ideas about how the struggle should be fought prove effective is one of the biggest questions facing the country. Terrorism has faded from the public consciousness in large part due to the successful policies* of the Bush administration. Rest assured, this is not an area where Republicans will be wishing for Obama to fail. Hopefully his prescription is right and he’s up to the task of protecting the nation. And he shouldn’t depend on much cooperation from the other nations around the world.
* And the looming victory in Iraq being swept under the rug by the media. Plus the economy. But no attacks in seven-plus years has lulled us to sleep on the terror issue.