WASHINGTON – Lawmakers trying to block President Barack Obama from closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay scolded the administration Thursday for losing track of a former detainee who recently went missing after being resettled in Uruguay.
Syrian native Abu Wa'el Dhiab is one of six former Guantanamo detainees transferred to Uruguay in December 2014 after his release. Police in neighboring Brazil are trying to find him, but the federal police say there is no record of Dhiab entering the country.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it's the third time that Dhiab has left Uruguay. At a committee hearing, Royce accused Obama of recklessly releasing detainees to other countries to make good on a campaign promise to close the prison.
"Many countries just aren't up to the job," Royce said. "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," Royce said.
Uruguayan authorities insist Dhiab is visiting Brazil and that as a refugee he is entitled to travel out of the country. Avianca Airlines last week issued an internal alert saying Dhiab could be trying to enter Brazil, the site of the summer Olympics, with a fake passport.
Lee Wolosky, special envoy at the State Department for closing Guantanamo, and his counterpart, Paul Lewis, at the Pentagon, defended the administration's efforts to minimize the risk to national security when transferring detainees.
Lewis said that before any detainee is transferred, the State Department receives security assurances from the receiving country. Defense officials, in conjunction with the intelligence community, then review the receiving country's ability to mitigate any possible threat.
The current Guantanamo population is 79 prisoners, including 29 who have been approved for transfer. Officials have said most of those will be sent home or resettled in other countries by the end of the summer.
Wolosky said seven detainees, including one who is dead, out of 144 released during the latest reporting period are "confirmed" of returning to the fight. He said 12, including one who is dead, are "suspected" of re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activity. Another 15 detainees have been transferred out of Guantanamo since the latest report.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the committee's ranking Democrat, said the recidivism rate was higher under the Bush administration, which released 532 detainees.
"Under no circumstances is the Obama administration simply opening the gate and releasing dangerous terrorists onto the street," Engel said.
Jon Eisenberg, a California lawyer, who represented Dhiab when he was at Guantanamo, said he is skeptical of reports that he has left Uruguay.
Eisenberg said he spoke by phone with Dhiab on June 5 to discuss the ongoing litigation by media organizations, including The Associated Press, seeking to force the U.S. government to release videotapes of him being force-fed while on he was on hunger strike at Guantanamo.
At that time, the lawyer said, Dhiab mentioned that he would be out of touch for the entire Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended this week in many Muslim nations, and for a week after that.
Eisenberg also noted that Dhiab is on crutches and does not move around easily and had mentioned in their call that he was happy that his wife and three children were finally being allowed to join him in Uruguay.