Republicans on the House intelligence committee said Wednesday that the Obama administration’s largest release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay endangers American troops, and that the president will be fully responsible for any American casualties resulting from the transfer.
Fourteen Republicans, including all GOP members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, penned a letter to Obama objecting to the release of 15 detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, arguing that the administration’s decision to release "increasingly dangerous terrorists" from U.S. custody jeopardizes U.S. forces operating abroad.
"Your actions increase the risk to U.S. forces and any injuries or deaths as a result are solely your responsibility," the lawmakers, led by committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), wrote. "Therefore, we urge you again to stop transferring dangerous detainees from the Guantanamo detention facility and instead generate a comprehensive strategic plan to combat the growing terrorist threat to the United States and our allies."
The administration transferred 15 detainees, including a member of an al Qaeda-linked bomb-making cell, into the control of the United Arab Emirates on August 15, prompting strong rebukes from lawmakers who regard Obama’s efforts to shutter the prison as a threat to national security. The administration announced the largest-ever prisoner release after the Washington Post reported that at least 12 detainees released from Guantanamo had committed attacks against U.S. or allied forces in Afghanistan, incidents that killed roughly half a dozen Americans.
"As you continue to draw down the prisoner population at Guantanamo Bay, you are releasing increasingly dangerous terrorists who are more closely linked to al-Qa’ida and attacks against the U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan," the lawmakers wrote Wednesday. "This largest-ever release includes several who trained in al-Qa’ida training camps, were bodyguards for Usama bin Laden, and fought at Tora Bora. They were non-compliant with their interrogators and hostile towards the Joint Task Force Guantanamo guards."
According to assessments released by the Director of National Intelligence in March, 204 former Guantanamo detainees have either resumed terrorist activities or are suspected of doing so, accounting for roughly 30 percent of prisoners who have been released from the detention facility.
With the latest prisoner release, the administration has whittled the Guantanamo Bay prison population down to 61 detainees from its peak of nearly 800 under President George W. Bush. The administration has transferred 30 detainees out of the prison since February. Many of the prisoners released earlier this month were cleared for transfer just this year, according to the Pentagon.
One of the recently transferred detainees, an Afghan approved for transfer in May named Obaidullah, was assessed to be an explosives expert for a cell targeting coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan. The lawmakers who wrote to Obama on Wednesday argued that the decision to transfer Obaidullah was irrational given his past associations and numerous infractions while imprisoned.
"According to the Periodic Review Board, Obaidullah, an Afghan detainee, was ‘mostly compliant’ because he committed ‘less than 100 infractions since his arrival—a low number relative to the other detainees,’" the lawmakers wrote, referring to the interagency determination made concerning Obaidullah’s continued detention. "If 100 infractions is considered a low number, then the bar for acceptable behavior has skewed far from reality."
"His lack of stated intent to re-engage in terrorist activities is due to his lack of candor with his interrogators who admit that they ‘lack insight into his current mindset,’" they wrote. "That is no rationalization for his transfer."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Obama has accelerated the transfer of prisoners at Guantanamo in order to fulfill his campaign promise of shuttering the facility. In February, the president submitted a plan to close Guantanamo to Congress that would involve moving prisoners not approved for release to U.S. prisons, which is barred by current law. The White House has not publicly ruled out any options to close the prison, though the administration has reportedly decided against pursuing action without congressional approval.
Lawmakers have looked to fiscal 2017 defense legislation to prevent the closure of Guantanamo and the transfer of highly dangerous prisoners to facilities in the United States, though the White House has threatened to veto the efforts.