House lawmakers slam Obama administration over Gitmo transfers

House lawmakers slam Obama administration over Gitmo transfers

By Loree Lewis   
The House Foreign Affairs Committee questions Paul M. Lewis (left) and Lee Wolosky on the release of Guantanamo detainees. (Photo by Danielle Wilde)

Officials in Uruguay said this week that they lost sight of Syrian national Abu Wa'el Dhiab, 44, who was transferred to the country in 2014 with five other detainees after being cleared for release from the prison in Cuba.

WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – House lawmakers trying to block the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center sharply criticized the Obama administration Thursday over the disappearance of a former inmate released to Uruguay.

They said the inmate and others who have been released from the prison after multi-agency reviews could still pose a threat to the U.S.

Officials in Uruguay said this week that they lost sight of Syrian national Abu Wa’el Dhiab, 44, who was transferred to the country in 2014 with five other detainees after being cleared for release from the prison in Cuba.

U.S. officials told CNN Wednesday that Dhiab passed through Brazil en route to Venezuela, where he was last spotted. The officials said that he is believed to be on his way back to the Middle East. One senior administration official told CNN that it is “not clear whether he wants to go back to the fight or simply go back to the region of the world where he is from and just wants to live there.”

Under the 2016 defense policy bill, officials must alert Congress to a transfer 30 days before making it. The Defense Secretary also must certify that the receiving country will mitigate any risk that the transferred detainee would reengage in terrorism.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a hearing dedicated to the topic that it’s the third time Dhiab has left Uruguay. He accused President Barack Obama of recklessly releasing detainees to other countries in order to make good on a 2008 campaign promise to close the prison.

“Many countries just aren’t up to the job,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “And, a diplomatic agreement to do the job isn’t worth the paper it is written on if a country doesn’t have the resources or training to keep committed terrorists from returning to the battlefield.”

The U.S. aims to return inmates to their country of origin, but some nations are barred because of local instability.

Lee Wolosky, special envoy at the State Department for closing Guantanamo, acknowledged Diyab had been “difficult” from the time he was transferred to Uruguay, and CNN reported that he and other transferred inmates had “felt alienated in a country where they did not speak the language and there is no Muslim community.”

Wolosky and his counterpart at the Pentagon, Paul Lewis, defended the the Obama administration’s efforts to minimize the risk to national security when transferring detainees.

Wolosky said that under Obama, detainees are reviewed by a parole-like board that consists of representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He said this is different from the George W. Bush administration when only the Defense Department would review the cases.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s top Democrat, said the recidivism rate was higher under the Bush administration — of the 532 released detainees, 185 are confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorist activities. Under Obama, 19 of the 144 released detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorist activities.

“Under no circumstances, in my opinion, is the Obama administration simply opening the gate and releasing dangerous terrorists onto the street,” Engel said.

Wolosky said that the President still intends to work with Congress to shutter the facility before his administration ends in five months. This would require Congress to pass additional legislation.

Under the law, the government is barred from using federal funds to transfer or release Guantanamo detainees within the U.S. and prohibited from using federal monies for the construction, modification or acquisition of any facility in the U.S. to house detainees.

The process by which detainees are transferred abroad came under renewed scrutiny after The Washington Post published a story last month that said at least 12 detainees released from Guantanamo under the Bush administration have killed near a half-dozen Americans in Afghanistan. The report added details to testimony Lewis gave to the committee earlier this year, when he said former detainees had killed Americans.

There are 79 detainees at Guantanamo, of whom 29 are eligible for transfer.

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