House Livid Over Former Guantanamo Detainees

     WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. officials tasked with closing Guantanamo Bay squared off before a skeptical House committee Thursday on charges that detainee transfer requests are being approved with a rubber stamp.
     “The process for transferring Guantanamo detainees is thorough and rigorous,” said Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo closure.
     The House Foreign Affairs Committee called the oversight hearing to investigate whether the Obama administration is sending Guantanamo transfers to some countries that are ill-equipped to handle them, allowing them to slip off the radar and back to the battlefield.
     Wolosky denied the allegations, saying the administration has “absolutely” decided not to transfer detainees to certain countries when security assurances could not be met.
     Paul Lewis, Wolosky’s corollary at the Defense Department, added that the United States conducts transfers “in a safe and responsible manner.”
     The periodic review board process to determine if Guantanamo detainees can be transferred has come under more scrutiny recently after the Washington Post reported last month that up to 12 former detainees transferred from the Cuban prison camp have killed six Americans during attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
     Wolosky and Lewis told the committee that all of those detainees were transferred under the Bush administration, which had a less stringent review process. Less than 5 percent of detainees transferred by the Obama administration are confirmed of re-engaging, and none of them have killed Americans, they said.
     These assurances did little to assuage the concerns of the committee, which had previously warned the administration that it had concerns about the transfer of six former detainees to Uruguay. These concerns were recently underscored by the disappearance early last month of Jihad Diyab, a Syrian former detainee the U.S. transferred there in December 2014.
     Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the committee, said Diyab has left the country three times.
     According to reporting by the New York Times, Diyab apparently disappeared after telling several people he was going on a religious retreat and would be unreachable during that time. Movement between Uruguay’s border with Brazil is not heavily monitored, and it is believed that Diyab could be in Brazil.
     Royce accused Lewis and Wolosky of lying to Congress in March during earlier testimony about Uruguay’s ability to control the men. They previously said the Defense Department had not knowingly transferred a detainee to a country it believed was unable to mitigate the risk of recidivism and maintain custody of the detainees.
     Lewis and Wolosky said Thursday they stand by their earlier testimony.
     Royce mentioned three intelligence reports from May 31, 2013; July 15, 2014; and Aug. 6, 2015, that he said indicated some countries are ill-equipped to handle transferred detainees.
     Wolosky declined to discuss the classified matter in an open setting, but Lewis told the committee that “every transfer has met the statutory requirement.” The administration uses a plethora of information, beyond those intelligence reports, to assess whether detainees should be transferred, they said.
     After diplomatic negotiations over security frameworks to mitigate risk, “the secretary of defense consults with the secretaries of state and Homeland Security, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff on the transfer,” Wolosky said.
     “Only after the secretary of defense receives the views of those principals – and only if he is satisfied that the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act are satisfied – does the secretary of defense sign and transmit a certification to Congress conveying his intent to transfer detainees,” he added.
     That did not persuade Royce.
     “I don’t think you can just wish away intelligence reports that raise grave concerns, reports that you chose to deny when asked about them in our last hearing,” Royce said. “But if you’re now saying that the intelligence reports are – I assume the implication here is — incomplete, then I have to say, from what we can tell, the president has made a political decision to close Guantanamo no matter what the cost to national security. That can be the only reason why these intelligence assessments are being pushed aside, in my judgment.”
     The envoys discussed steps Uruguay is taking to mitigate any potential risk with the transfers.
     “Mr. Chairman, I strongly disagree with any suggestion that I misled this committee,” Wolosky said. “In fact I stand by my testimony in March. The fact is the standard is not elimination of risk. It is mitigation of risk.”
     “We never represented to this committee that there was a travel prohibition,” Wolosky added, emphasizing that the transfers to Uruguay were subject only to travel restrictions.
     The U.S. agreed that Diyab would go through a two-year resettlement program, but Wolosky said Diyab was “a problem from the moment he landed in Uruguay” because he did not want to participate in Uruguay’s resettlement opportunities.
     Royce scolded them for accepting what he perceived as questionable assurances from Uruguay.
     “When a country tells you that they won’t prevent a terrorist from traveling then you had better listen if your intention is to release that terrorist into that country,” Royce responded.
     Wolosky took issue with labeling former detainees who have been transferred as terrorists, which he noted during the hearing.
     “When they are held by the United States as enemy combatants, they are law of war detainees,” the envoy said in an interview after the hearing. “In some cases we’re able to charge these people with crimes. In some cases we’re not. If we’re not able to charge them with crimes, and they’re approved for transfer outside of our custody, we transfer them. At that point they are former detainees.”
     Wolosky emphasized that these individuals are “absolutely not” convicted terrorists.

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