WikiLeaks is at it again – though once more, it’s the Gitmo detainees who wind up as the big losers.
Though the activist website founder and former hacker Julian Assange continues his personal war against America, ironically his release of more than 700 secret files from the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to a handful of media outlets it actually underscores the danger posed by the men held there.
Like his previous release of stolen diplomatic cables late last year which highlighted the enormously complex and messy business of resettling and repatriating detainees, this new treasure trove of information will help keep Gitmo open for years to come.
The files released this time around consisted of Detainee Assessment Briefs, aka DAB’s from 2002-09 that describe the threat level of captured Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked terror suspects, their recruiters, financiers and facilitators.
Not surprisingly, the great majority of the 172 detainees who remain at Gitmo are dubbed “high risk.” Regrettably, of the 604 men who were already released due to unrelenting domestic and international pressure, about one third were similarly classified.
Thus, it should be no surprise that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) report to Congress on ex-Gitmo detainees in December 2010 showed a staggering 25% -- or roughly 150 men, are believed to have returned to terrorism, with 81 confirmed and 69 suspected.
The latest data dump also gives insights into the frighteningly bizarre nature of some of the individuals held there.
The man facing the death penalty at his upcoming military commission for organizing the USS Cole bombing in 2000, Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, reportedly was so paranoid about women and squarely dedicated to jihad, he had himself injected himself with drugs to promote impotency.
Further details of terrorist activities post-Sept. 11 are also revealed about fellow high-value detainees at the top of the Al Qaeda hierarchy, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, one of Bin Laden’s top aides.
The dossiers also illustrate the difficulty in predicting which detainees will continue to pose a threat once released – even the ones who were determined to be low-risk.
One shining example is the tale of Said Mohammed Alam Shah. A 24-year old Afghan with a missing leg, he was captured with the Taliban in 2001 – though told his interrogators at Gitmo that he was merely a conscripted driver only trying to “rescue his younger brother.”
Once he left Gitmo for Afghanistan in 2004, along with a new prosthetic leg provided by U.S. military doctors, it didn’t take long for him to re-join his former comrades on the battlefield – this time using by his nom-de-guerre, "Abdullah Mehsud." Rising through the Taliban ranks to a leadership position, he organized an attack on Pakistan’s interior minister killing 31, while also kidnapping two Chinese engineers -- then blew himself up in 2007 as Pakistani security forces surrounded his position.
Another detainee file worth noting was that of Libyan Abu Sufian Hamuda Bin Quma, repatriated to Libya as Col. Muammar Qaddafi sought to seek favor with Islamists – a group that has always eyed the secular dictator warily and even tried to assassinate him. A former Libyan tank driver with deep ties to Al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Sudan, Quma is now reportedly training rebels in helping to topple Qaddafi – one the Colonel undoubtedly wishes he didn’t let get away. Not to mention raising questions on the rebels themselves and what a post-Qaddafi Libya will look like.
So what does all this mean?
Just like Gitmo desperately needed it all the way back to Day 1 in January 2002, more transparency in its case is actually a good thing.
Though a small group of the total 779 detainees should never have been assigned to Gitmo in the first place – owing mostly to complexities of a new type war fought against a lethal non-state and fanatical enemy -- the great majority of those held were in the right place all along.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have kept the country safer due to the prison at Guantanamo, though both have not been transparent enough. If only Americans knew the details of how dangerous most detainees were, they would have been far more supportive of our government's efforts to hold them.
And now that he has emulated his predecessor in every way on Gitmo, President Obama should publicly recognize that the facility has kept dangerous terrorists off the battlefield and saved American lives.
Contrary to President Obama's statements on the campaign trail, Gitmo is very much within the rule of law. It’s called the Law of War. It’s also in keeping with our values. It’s called self-preservation.
America after all, does have a right to defend itself – and we desperately need leaders who are unafraid to say so.
J.D. Gordon is a communications consultant to several Washington, D.C. think tanks and retired Navy commander who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009 as the Pentagon's spokesman for the Western Hemisphere. For more info, www.gordoncohenstrategies.com.