Man released from Guantanamo becomes terrorist leader;
and, the only real solution to Guantanamo is Separation

(Note: Below, M. Jose asks what should be done about the prisoners at Guantanamo, and I suggest a rough answer.)

You see, in a way, VFR has been much too hard on liberals. It’s not true that liberals are dangerous because they subscribe to unreal abstractions about mankind, such as that all people are good by nature. To the contrary, it’s that liberals are like Missourians. They’re the “show me” party. They are very pragmatic and down-to-earth, and suspicious of airy abstractions. They don’t like abstractions because abstractions imply that concretes have an essence, which is oppressive, because it limits the freedom of each concrete to be whatever it wants. So, the idea that if you release terrorists from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo they may become … terrorists, is, to liberals, a meaningless, almost mystical, syllogism. It implies that there’s something transcendent about each terrorist, apart from his individual humanity, that makes him behave a certain way. The liberals’ heads simply won’t process such a statement. No, they’ve got to be shown. And here’s a timely story in today’s New York Times that shows them:

Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief

BEIRUT, Lebanon—The emergence of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

“They’re one and the same guy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis. “He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007, but his movements to Yemen remain unclear.”

The development came as Republican legislators criticized the plan to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp in the absence of any measures for dealing with current detainees. But it also helps explain why the new administration wants to move cautiously, taking time to work out a plan to cope with the complications.

Almost half the camp’s remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program—partly financed by the United States—similar to the Saudi one. Saudi Arabia has claimed that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism.

“The lesson here is, whoever receives former Guantanamo detainees needs to keep a close eye on them,” the American official said.

Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guant�namo detainees have “returned to the fight,” its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism. In any case, few of the former detainees, if any, are thought to have become leaders of a major terrorist organization like Al Qaeda in Yemen, a mostly homegrown group that experts say has been reinforced by foreign fighters.

Long considered a haven for jihadists, Yemen, a desperately poor country in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has witnessed a rising number of attacks over the past year. American officials say they suspect that Mr. Shihri may have been involved in the car bombings outside the American Embassy in Sana last September that killed 16 people, including six attackers.

In the Internet statement, Al Qaeda in Yemen identified its new deputy leader as Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri, saying he returned from Guant�namo to his native Saudi Arabia and then traveled to Yemen “more than 10 months ago.” That corresponds roughly to the return of Mr. Shihri, a Saudi who was released from Guant�namo in November 2007. Abu Sayyaf is a nom de guerre, commonly used by jihadists in place of their real name or first name.

A Saudi security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Shihri had disappeared from his home in Saudi Arabia last year after finishing the rehabilitation program.

A Yemeni journalist who interviewed Al Qaeda’s leaders in Yemen last year, Abdulela Shaya, confirmed Thursday that the deputy leader was indeed Mr. Shihri, the former Guant�namo detainee. Mr. Shaya, in a phone interview, said Mr. Shihri had described to him his journey from Cuba to Yemen and supplied his Guant�namo detention number, 372. That is the correct number, Pentagon documents show.

“It seems certain from all the sources we have that this is the same individual who was released from Guant�namo in 2007,” said Gregory Johnsen, a terrorism analyst and the editor of a forthcoming book, “Islam and Insurgency in Yemen.”

Mr. Shihri, 35, trained in urban warfare tactics at a camp north of Kabul, Afghanistan, according to documents released by the Pentagon as part of his Guant�namo dossier. Two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan via Bahrain and Pakistan, and he later told American investigators that his intention was to do relief work, the documents say. He was wounded in an airstrike and spent a month and a half recovering in a hospital in Pakistan.

The documents state that Mr. Shihri met with a group of “extremists” in Iran and helped them get into Afghanistan. They also say he was accused of trying to arrange the assassination of a writer, in accordance with a fatwa, or religious order, issued by an extremist cleric.

However, under a heading describing reasons for Mr. Shihri’s possible release from Guant�namo, the documents say he claimed that he traveled to Iran “to purchase carpets for his store” in Saudi Arabia. They also say that he denied knowledge of any terrorists or terrorist activities, and that he “related that if released, he would like to return to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wherein he would reunite with his family.”

“The detainee stated he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store if it is still in business,” the documents say.

The Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda has carried out a number of terrorist attacks over the past year, culminating in the assault on the American Embassy in Sana on Sept. 16. In that assault, the attackers disguised themselves as Yemeni policemen and detonated two car bombs. The group has also begun releasing sophisticated Internet material, in what appears to be a bid to gain more recruits.

Yemen began cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism activities in late 2001. But the partnership has been a troubled one, with American officials accusing Yemen of paroling dangerous terrorists, including some who were wanted in the United States. Some high-level terrorism suspects have also mysteriously escaped from Yemeni jails. The disagreements and security lapses have complicated efforts to repatriate the 100 or so Yemenis remaining in Guant�namo.

Despite some notable Yemeni successes in fighting terrorist groups, Al Qaeda in Yemen appears to be gaining strength.

“They are bringing Saudi fighters in, and they want to start to use Yemen as a base for attacks throughout region, including Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa,” said Mr. Johnsen, an expert on Al Qaeda in Yemen.

- end of initial entry -

Terry Morris writes:

“No, they’ve got to be shown. And here’s a timely story in today’s New York Times that shows them”:

Yes, but this is one story about one former detainee who became a terrorist leader. Most of the detainees at Guantanamo are innocent and simply want to return to their families and live the rest of their lives out peacefully, haven’t you heard? Yet they are held illegally at an illegal prison, subjected to the indignity of being imprisoned for these many years with no end in sight. And they are daily subjected to the most inhumane treatments, i.e., mental and physical torture, restrictions on their religious practices, etc… With all the injustices perpetrated on these so called “enemy combatants,” it stands to reason that some of them, upon release, would join “terrorist” organizations such as al Qaeda. Obviously you have also not heard that terrorism breeds terrorism. And America is the biggest terrorizer of all.

Mark P. writes:

As poorly thought through as the Bush policy on Gitmo is, it really does not compare to the Obama policy of shutting it down…or to most of the suggestions on that Arena blog. The inertia of keeping it open indefinitely is a far superior choice.


Applying American criminal law to Gitmo prisoners really only leads to one result…not guilty verdicts. The intelligence community will not be able to meet the discovery demands of opposing council, resulting in acquitals. Okay…that’s what the Left wants.

But what do you do with the newly acquitted former Gitmo prisoners? Send them back home? Well, what if their respective homelands don’t want them back? Then what? Do they gain refugee status in America? Is Obama really going to re-settle jihadis all over the States?

How will that fly with the public?

LA replies:

Obama is like Jimmy Carter, though with a better rational faculty. He starts off from knee jerk, thoughless liberal positions, then, maybe (?) he seems to realize they don’t work, then, maybe (?) makes adjustments, and finally leaves us … we don’t yet know where.

M. Jose writes:

Regarding your recent article , the main issue I have with Guantanamo is the question of how good our methods of determining who should be sent there are (granted, not being a liberal, perhaps I am not the type of person you and Terry are talking about). It’s not so much that most of the people there are innocent, but that we would like some sort of guarantee that the procedures to determine who is guilty and who is innocent are appropriate and accurate. [LA replies: Agreed.]

The main concern is that the government will grab someone they suspect of something, hold him indefinitely, and not give him any chance to prove his innocence (if he is indeed innocent). Now, things are more complicated than that, and there are some procedures in place, but almost no one who defends our policies relating to prisoners and Guantanamo bother to argue that our procedures are fair and do weed out any innocent people who might be captured by mistake. Indeed, most of the defenders of Guantanamo essentially argue that if we want we have the right to hold someone for the rest of their lives without pressing any charges, and many have used to examples of releases who have joined (or rejoined) terrorist organizations to argue that no one we capture should ever be released for any reason. Put another way, even if the prisoners in Guantanamo are not the victims of arbitrary detention (which for the most part I think they are not) many of Guantanamo’s defenders have basically argued that there would be nothing wrong if they were.

In an earlier post, you argued that “the pro-Guantanamo side has never laid out its bottom line.” I would also argue that they have never laid out what safeguards are in place to prevent the imprisonment of innocent people and have never laid out the process for putting people in Guantanamo.

By the way, what is your “bottom line” on what should be done to the prisoners? My feeling is that all of them should get trials of some sort, the general processes and procedures of the trials should be made clear to the public (although the specific information of specific trials may not need to be heard; and should definitely be classified if revealing it threatens national security), and if someone is convicted, they should get appropriate sentences for their crimes. I would have no problem with those who are sentenced to imprisonment spending their imprisonment at Guantanamo.

LA replies:

I don’t know what should be done. And I think the reason I don’t know is that there has never been an intelligent national debate on this issue. What we’ve had is the familiar polarization of the Bush years, with the liberals mindlessly charging “tyranny,” the “death of the Constitution,” etc., and the administration (its prototypical point man being the inarticulate Alberto Gonzales) failing to make an understandable case for what Guantanamo is about, what are its procedures, and so on. This has left the debate on the level of liberal instinct (“Give them all trials in regular U.S. courts or let them go”) versus conservative instinct (“We’ve got to keep these dangerous enemies locked up.”) And of course Obama does not do anything to bring clarity to the issue but is merely acting as the tribune of liberal instinct. There has been no intellectual leadership on this issue of which I’m aware.

LA continues:

As long as I’m forced to choose between the liberal and the conservative side, of course I’m on the conservative side. To give these people regular criminal trials is insane.

Here is what I would suggest. There must be some kind of procedure (NOT a regular judicial procedure) by which we can determine with a reasonable degree of accuracy who are the people who have committed terrorism and must either be executed or kept imprisoned indefinitely; and who are, let us say, “standard” jihadists. There must be tens of thousands of jihadists scattered through the Muslim world who are no better than the couple of hundred prisoners in Guantanamo. Yet we don’t seem terribly worried about those thousands. So is there anything gained by keeping the couple of hundred in Guantanamo? Why not just send them back to their own countries?

This approach would make even more sense if America and the West would pursue Separationism, meaning the rollback, containment, and isolation of Muslims within the Islamic lands, followed by permanent policing of the Islamic world from its periphery combined with the instant destruction of dangerous elements or regimes when called for. If there were no Muslims in the West, and if Muslims were contained in their historic lands where they could have no effect on us, a bunch of jihadists in the (quarantined) Muslim lands would be no concern to us. But as long as we are heavily involved in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and as long as there are tens of millions of Muslims in the West, each released jihadist could pose a threat, either to our forces in the Muslim world, or to Western countries.

Separation is the only true solution—not only to the Islam problem as a whole, but to each of the discrete problems we have with Islam, such as what to do with the prisoners at Guantanamo.

Another point: when, in any future conflict, such as an incursion into a Muslim country to destroy an unacceptable regime or terrorist group, we defeat and capture Taliban-type enemies, I think we have to kill them all, or let our Muslim allies of the moment kill them all. It’s only important to hold them prisoner and get information from them if we are entangled in the Muslim world as at present and are trying to stave off individual terrorist attacks. But if the Muslims are being confined where they can’t attack us, we don’t need highly detailed information about what the jihadists are doing. We just need enough information to allow us to identify regimes and groups that pose an unacceptable danger, and to destroy them.

LA writes:

Here’s how NRO in an editorial sums up Obama on Guantanamo and related issues:

So to summarize: We’d love to close Guantanamo, but we can’t right now; we’d love to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, but other countries don’t want them; we’d love to give every detainee a civilian trial, but we don’t have enough evidence; we’d love to release the detainees we can’t charge with crimes, but our intelligence tells us they’re dangerous, so doing so would be irresponsible; and we’d love to stick to the highly civilized, detainee-friendly interrogation practices approved by the Army Field Manual, but every now and then there may be an emergency when something more severe is warranted.

Underneath all the lofty rhetoric, we’re gratified to see that this is change George W. Bush could believe in.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 23, 2009 08:24 AM | Send

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