Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that Hafizullah Shahbaz Khail was currently being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He was released in March.

Where are the Gitmo goatherds?

By Marc A. Thiessen
Monday, May 31, 2010

For years the left has spun the myth that hundreds of Guantanamo detainees are really innocent goatherds and dirt farmers wrongly swept up in the war on terror. In an interview last year, Admiral A.T. Church III -- the former Navy inspector general who investigated detainee treatment Guantanamo -- told me this charge was "bull crap." As Church put it, "There may have been a couple of those, but most of these guys would slit your throat in a second. Most of them are very dangerous guys."

Now an official investigation conducted by the Obama administration -- and unanimously approved by departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- has concluded that Church was right.

On Friday, while most Americans headed to the beach, the Obama administration unceremoniously released the Final Report of its Guantanamo Review Task Force. The task force found that of the 240 detainees at Guantanamo when Obama took office, roughly 10 percent "played a direct role in plotting, executing, or facilitating" terrorist attacks against U.S. targets. Another 20 percent had "significant organizational roles within al-Qaeda or associated terrorist groups" including "individuals responsible for overseeing or providing logistical support to al-Qaeda's training operations in Afghanistan; facilitators who helped move money and personnel for al-Qaeda . . . and well trained operatives who were being groomed by al-Qaeda leaders for future terrorist operations." Another nearly 10 percent "occupied significant positions within the Taliban regime" or insurgent networks "implicated in attacks on Coalition forces." About 55 percent were rank and file "foreign fighters with varying degrees of connection to al-Qaeda , but who lacked a significant leadership or other specialized role." Only 5 percent did not "fit into any of the above categories."

In other words, 95 percent of those held at Guantanamo are confirmed terrorists.

Amazingly, the press played the report as a vindication for the Obama administration. The headline in Saturday's Washington Post read: "Most detainees low-level fighters." Well, if that was the real news, why wasn't the Obama administration trumpeting the results from the rooftops? Why did it leak the report on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, when the White House typically tries to bury bad news?

Because the report is bad news for the Obama administration and its allies on the left.

For one thing, it means Liz Cheney was right -- the folks she dubbed as al-Qaeda lawyers really are al-Qaeda lawyers. The task force "assembled large volumes of information from across the government . . . [and] examined this information critically" -- even accepting "written submissions made on behalf of individual detainees by their counsel or other representatives." After an exhaustive review, the Obama administration determined that 95 percent of the al-Qaeda bar's clients are in fact terrorist leaders, operatives or fighters.

No detainees were ordered released. Forty-eight were ordered to be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war, 36 to stand trial and 126 were approved for transfer to a third country. But the task force cautioned "a decision to approve a detainee for transfer does not reflect a decision that the detainee poses no threat or no risk of recidivism." It simply means the "threat posed by the detainee can be sufficiently mitigated through . . . security measures in the receiving country."

A detainee does not have to be a terrorist mastermind to be dangerous. One low-level detainee released in 2007, Hafizullah Shahbaz Khail, claimed he had no military training and was a supporter of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Paul Rester, director of the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, told me that "after his transfer . . . [Hafizullah ] carried out an attack against U.S. forces during which two soldiers were killed and four wounded." He was recaptured in the attack and held at Bagram Air Base until March. Rester said an intelligence officer in Afghanistan e-mailed back to Guantanamo after [Hafizullah's] capture to say, "Thanks a bunch for letting him go; he's killing our guys."

There are dozens of similar examples. According to Obama counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, the recidivism rate for Guantanamo detainees is now 20 percent. One out of five go back to jihad.

The task force's report was finished in January, but the White House knew that releasing it as the president's deadline to close Guantanamo came and went would have been a public relations disaster. Now the White House has turned it into a public relations trifecta: It kept the findings secret for nearly four months; placed them in the Saturday papers over Memorial Day weekend; and spun the story as a vindication of its position on Guantanamo.

The press may be buying the spin, but Congress is not. Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to bar construction of the military detention center in Thomson, Ill., where the Obama administration wants to transfer many Guantanamo detainees. The House Armed Services Committee has approved a similar restriction. The killers held at Guantanamo are not coming stateside anytime soon. And if the conclusions of the Obama administration's Guantanamo task force are to be believed, that is good news for America.

Marc A. Thiessen, a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, writes a weekly column for The Post.

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