The SUV-bomb that failed to detonate in Times Square this past Saturday serves as timely reminder that public vigilance and rapid response by law enforcement authorities can play an important role in helping to prevent terrorist attacks.
Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was picked up on Monday night by authorities at JFK Airport while attempting to fly to Dubai. Shahzad had just returned from a 5-month trip to Pakistan where he admitted receiving training in making bombs in Waziristan, a lawless tribal area along the Afghan border known as a terrorist haven. The Pakistani Taliban was quick to claim responsibility for the failed attack in 3 videos, and Pakistani authorities have already made several arrests.
Attorney General Eric Holder has urged the public to remain vigilant. He is absolutely correct, as significant numbers of terrorists remain at large.
According to declassified U.S. intelligence reports, a full 20% of nearly 600 ex-Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism. Some have been killed or captured, though most remain free.
While the Obama administration continues efforts to shutter Guantanamo’s detention facilities, moving most of the 183 detainees to a federal prison in Thomson, Illinois and resettling others to third party countries, an honest appraisal of the threat posed by its detainees, past and present, is in order.
Though Guantanamo critics have portrayed detainees as innocent goat herders sold for bounties, drivers, cooks, juveniles and other benign sounding fellows, the majority of the roughly 780 detainees held were actually quite dangerous. This includes the masterminds of the attacks of 9/11, on U.S. Embassies in East Africa, the USS Cole, and nightclubs in Bali.
Here is a list of the top 7 most interesting ex-Gitmo men:
Abdullah Gulam Rasoul of Afghanistan is the Taliban operations commander in the Kandahar area and leading combat against U.S. and NATO troops. Released from Guantanamo in 2007, Rasoul had claimed he was forced to carry a gun by the Taliban and was sold for a bounty. His nom de guerre: Mullah Abdullah Zakir. Remains at large.
Abu Sufyan Al-Shihri of Saudi Arabia surfaced in Yemen as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, released a propaganda video 4 days after the 2009 presidential inauguration challenging the Obama Administration. Released in 2007, he was implicated in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa. Remains at large.
Abdullah Mehsud of Afghanistan directed a suicide bombing on Pakistan’s Minister of the Interior in 2007 which killed 31 people. Released in 2004, he subsequently kidnapped two Chinese engineers in Pakistan. A daredevil with long hair, he rallied his troops against U.S. forces on horseback. He blew himself up to avoid capture in 2007.
Abdallah Saleh Al Ajmi of Kuwait conducted a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq killing 13 people and wounding 42 with an explosive-laden pick-up truck on Easter Sunday 2008. Though Kuwait pledged to mitigate his security risk, they “lost track of him.” Incredibly, a prestigious public relations firm and law firm, both based in Washington, DC partnered with a generous Kuwaiti Government to secure his freedom.
Hafizullah Shahbaz Khail of Afghanistan carried out an attack against U.S. troops killing two and wounding four, not long after his release from Guantanamo in 2007. A pharmacist and proclaimed supporter of President Karzai, Khail was re-captured by Afghan authorities in 2008. His U.S. attorney still claims his detention is a mistake.
Mehdi Ghezali of Sweden was released from Guantanamo 2004 and authored a book entitled, Prisoner on Guantanamo: Mehdi Ghezali tells. Ghezali was re-captured by Pakistani authorities in 2009 with a group of 12 foreigners on their way to Waziristan, where Shahzad received his training.
Ibrahim Bin Shakaran of Morocco was released in 2004 and soon re-arrested and convicted by Moroccan authorities for recruiting terrorists for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Zarqawi sent legions of suicide-bombers recruited from throughout the Middle East to kill thousands of men, women and children.
As these cases prove, releasing detainees from Guantanamo has significant risks. While these men should still be detained, overwhelming domestic and international pressure led to their release. The current administration should resist such pressure in releasing similarly dangerous detainees.
These include men like Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian with British residence, sent to Britain in February 2009, despite implication as Jose Padilla’s co-conspirator in a plot to blow up high-rise apartment buildings with their propane systems. (Padilla is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence) Or Ahmed Salim Zuhair, released to Saudi Arabia in June 2009, despite his alleged role in the 1995 Bosnia killing of United Nations librarian William Jefferson of Camden, New Jersey. Though Zuhair was arrested with Jefferson’s watch in his possession, according to Holder at a Senate hearing, there was “no sufficient proof” for continued detention.
The administration should reveal a list of those they intend to transfer into the country. It is impossible to determine which 183 detainees are at Guantanamo, as the complete list of all detainees released by the Bush administration in early 2006 was a snapshot in time, when the population was more than double the size.
According to the Brookings Institute, as of April 2009 when the population was roughly 240, the detainees included 27 Al Qaeda leaders and 95 lower-level Al Qaeda operatives; 21 Taliban leaders and fighters; and 92 foreign fighters. Before a judge simply decides to let them walk-out of the gates at Thomson, Illinois due to “no sufficient proof,” the public should know who they are, accompanied with a bipartisan risk assessment.
J.D. Gordon is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy. He is a retired Navy Commander who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2009 as the Pentagon spokesman for the Western Hemisphere.
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J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy Commander who served as a Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-09. He serves as senior adviser to several Washington-based think tanks.