Top White House aides suggest that President Trump intends to keep the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open, even as one former detainee's suicide attack near Mosul Tuesday underscored the danger of releasing dangerous captives.
President Trump pledged to keep the controversial facility known as Gitmo open during his campaign, even as President Obama released waves of detainees in keeping with his promise to close it. Trump's commitment to “load it up” with some “bad dudes,” as he said on the campaign trail, has not wavered, according to one top aide.
“The President has been really explicit that Gitmo is a very, very important tool,” Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka told Fox News. “Beyond just the question of detention facilities or tribunals, it’s also important to understand that Guantanamo Bay is an incredibly important intelligence asset.”
“President Obama released lots and lots of people that were there for a very good reason. Half the time, they returned to the battlefield.”
- Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Trump
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said as much a day earlier, though he stopped short of offering assurance Gitmo would remain open.
“As the President has said very clearly before, we don’t telegraph what we’re gonna do—I think he has made it very clear though, that he believes that Guantanamo Bay does serve a very, very healthy purpose in our national security and making sure that we don’t bring terrorists to our seas,” Spicer said. “But I’m not gonna get into what we may or may not do in the future.”
Obama vowed before he was elected to shut down the detention center, with his first executive order on the matter introduced just two days after his first inauguration in 2009.
Some 780 people have been held at the military prison since its inception in 2002, and all but 41 have been released or transferred to other countries throughout both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Many former detainees have returned to the battlefield to carry out extremist and radical acts of terror like the one reportedly, executed by Jamal Malik al-Harith in Mosul this week. The Department of Defense confirmed to Fox News that Jamal Malik al-Harith was, in fact, a Gitmo detainee, but could not confirm his death in the bombing.
“President Obama released lots and lots of people that were there for a very good reason,” Gorka told Fox News. “Half the time, they returned to the battlefield.”
Other examples of Gitmo detainees returning to the battlefield include:
· Abdul Rauf- released from Gitmo in 2007; killed in an airstrike in 2015 while serving as a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan
· Mohammed Nayim Farouq- sent back to Afghanistan in 2003; then joined Taliban
· Mohammed Ismail –sent back to Afghanistan in 2004 and later found to have participated in Taliban attacks against U.S. forces
· Abdullah Gulam Rasoul—sent back to Afghanistan in 2007; now Taliban military commander who reportedly organized an attack on U.S. military aircraft in Afghanistan
· Shah Mohammed—sent back to Pakistan in 2003; then killed while fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan
· Abu Sufian bin Qumu—transferred to Libya in 2007; participated in Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans
· Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi – released to Saudi Arabia in 2006; then joined AQAP in Yemen as an operational commander
· Mohmammed Bin Ahmad Mizouz –transferred to Morocco in 2004; then convicted in 2007 for post-release involvement in a terrorist network recruiting Moroccans to fight for Al Qaeda in Iraq
· Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul—transferred from Gitmo in 2007; then became the Taliban’s chief operations officer in southern Afghanistan
· Yousef Muhammed Yaaqoub—transferred to Afghanistan in 2004; then Taliban commander in Afghanistan, then killed fighting U.S. forces
· Ibrahim Shafir Sen—transferred to Turkey in 2003; became leader of Al Qaeda cells in Turkey and recruited, trained members, and provided illegal weapons to the group
· Abd al Hadi Abdallah Ibrahim al Sharikh –transferred from Gitmo in 2007; arrested in 2008 for association with terrorist members
Cully Stimson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs under President Bush, now senior legal fellow for Heritage Foundation, coined the phrase “Gitmo Grads,” referring to those former Guantanamo Bay prisoners who returned to carry out acts of terrorism abroad.
“President Trump said he wanted to load Gitmo with ‘bad dudes’ and he is perfectly safe, legally, in doing so –as long as they are members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban,” Stimson told Fox News. “It would be unwise for them to move out on that unless there is an [authorization to hold members of] ISIS from Congress--the President will want to be on the strongest statutory footing here.”
Trump has yet to take a public stance on the status of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but aides say he’s determined to stick to campaign promises.
“You look at things we’ve managed to achieve based upon intelligence gleaned from prisoners there,” Gorka told Fox News. “So we stand by the President’s determination during the campaign that this is something we have to keep.”
Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.