Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Republic of Senegal today “for offering humanitarian resettlement to” two now former Guantanamo detainees. As was the case when the administration transferred detainees to Uruguay in late 2014 and Ghana earlier this year, the Guantanamo jihadists are being portrayed almost as victims in need of rescue from the American government.
“The United States appreciates the generous assistance of the Government of Senegal as the United States continues its efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” Kerry said in a statement to the press. “This significant humanitarian gesture is consistent with Senegal's leadership on the global stage.”
But Kerry's statement is inconsistent with what is known about the two jihadists transferred to Senegal. Even President Obama's own Guantanamo Review Task Force deemed one of them “too dangerous” to release from U.S. custody.
Both men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr Mahjour Umar and Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, allegedly belonged to al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and also worked with senior al Qaeda leaders. Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention facility, assessed both of them to be “high” risks who are “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.”
JTF-GTMO was especially concerned about Umar, finding that he was a “long-time associate” of Osama bin Laden and that he had “affiliations” with other top al Qaeda leaders. JTF-GTMO's analysts concluded that Umar was an “explosives and weapons trainer” who was willing to share his expertise with others. In an Aug. 22, 2008 threat assessment that was later leaked online, JTF-GTMO recommended that the Defense Department continue to hold Umar and issued the following warning:
If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities. Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee has been mostly compliant with guard force and staff but has threatened to kill US personnel on several occasions. Detainee has been cooperative, but continues to withhold information of intelligence value, and also shares his extensive explosives knowledge with other detainees.
President Obama's Guantanamo Review Task Force, which filed its final report in January 2010, shared JTF-GTMO's security concerns.
The task force determined that Umar should be held under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) because he was one of the dozens of detainees “determined to be too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.”
Critics of Guantanamo have called men such as Umar “forever” detainees, because the Obama administration (like the Bush administration) determined it has the right under the laws of war to hold them indefinitely without trial.
But “forever” has now ended sooner rather never in several recent cases.
Umar is the fifth detainee since September of last year to be transferred after being deemed “too dangerous to transfer” by Obama's task force. A sixth detainee was also transferred despite being recommended for prosecution by the task force. In all six cases, Obama's own interagency body concluded that the detainees should be held. But they were granted transfers from Guantanamo by another review board that is increasingly willing to transfer higher risk detainees.
In Umar's case, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined last August that his detention was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
The PRB acknowledged Umar's “past terrorist-related activities and connections,” but found that the “risk” he “presents” could be mitigated by his “significantly compromised health condition,” his “record of compliance” within Guantanamo, and his “recent engagement with his family illustrating his intent to move forward in a positive manner.”
Even so, the PRB couldn't rule out the possibility that Umar would return to the jihad.
The August 2015 decision reads: “The PRB also recommends appropriate security assurances as determined by the Guantanamo Detainee Transfer Working Group, with special attention to those that would mitigate the threat the detainee [Umar] may pose with respect to propaganda, recruitment, and training of others.”
Unlike Umar, Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby was approved for transfer more than six years ago. But this doesn't mean that Obama's task force believed he was an innocent who could be freed without any security concerns. The task force recommended Ghereby for transfer “to a country outside the United States that will implement appropriate security measures.”
JTF-GTMO concluded that Ghereby was a “former explosives trainer and a veteran jihad fighter” in the LIFG. He was also allegedly “associated” with senior al Qaeda members, including Abdul Hadi al Iraqi (Bin Laden's primary paramilitary commander prior to 9/11) and Ibn Shaykh al Libi. Bin Laden appointed al Libi as the head of al Qaeda's forces during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. (Al Iraqi is held at Guantanamo. Al Libi died in a Libyan prison in 2009.)
JTF-GTMO's analysts found that Ghereby “attended multiple training camps” and “received explosives training” from a “senior al Qaeda explosives expert” known as Abu Khabab al Masri. According to theleaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Ghereby, Masri's diary describes the explosives accident that cost Ghereby his fingers and vision in one eye.
JTF-GTMO's analysts also assessed that Ghereby participated in the Battle of Tora Bora and fled the mountain range with Ibn Shaykh al Libi and other jihadists.
Nothing in the available files for Umar or Ghereby suggests that Senegal's decision to take them was a great humanitarian act, as Secretary Kerry would have it. The Republic of Senegal is now responsible for implementing “appropriate security measures” to ensure that neither of them returns to the fight. As the rising number of recidivists shows, foreign countries have found it difficult to stop former detainees from rejoining the jihad. But perhaps such measures will not be necessary and other factors, such as Umar's health, will mitigate the risks they pose.
It is worth noting that the jihadists are operating throughout North and West Africa. The LIFG, which Umar and Ghereby served, found new life in North Africa during the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and afterwards. In fact, Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant believed in early 2011 that “an active Jihadist Islamic renaissance” was “underway.” Al Qaeda was encouraged by the fact that many LIFG members had been freed from jail. One of them was another ex-Guantanamo detainee and LIFG leader: Sufian Ben Qumu. Today, Ben Qumu is best known for his putative role in the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi.