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POLITICS: PennAve

2010 Flashback: Bowe Bergdahl release is not the first time White House, Hill clashed over detainees

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Politics,White House,Congress,Barack Obama,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Guantanamo Bay,al Qaeda,Yemen,Taliban,Bowe Bergdahl

President Obama's decision to swap Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders isn't the first time a release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay set off shock waves on Capitol Hill.

In early 2010, just days after a botched terrorist plot to take down a passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas Day, Republican lawmakers objected to administration plans to repatriate two Guantanamo Bay detainees to their home countries.

The episode is instructive because it shows the persistent tensions between the White House and Capitol Hill over how to release detainees.

The Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed credit for the attempted attack and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, said that operatives in Yemen supplied him with the bomb and trained him on how to detonate it.

In addition, at least one of the planners behind the bombing plot had been released to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 and ended up rejoining terrorist ranks in Yemen, according to several media reports.

After the Yemeni connection to the Christmas Day attempted bombing became known, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Intelligence Committee, called for a halt to all detainee transfers to Yemen - and the Obama administration agreed to temporarily suspend any repatriations to the country, which has become a hotbed for al Qaeda in recent years.

But that still left the fate of two detainees up in the air. The pair had yet to be transferred despite congressional notifications three days before Christmas of the administrations plans to repatriate them.

On Dec. 20, the State Department notified Congress of plans to transfer 12 Guantanamo Bay detainees to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somaliland. Six of the 12 were transferred to the government of Yemen.

The administration managed to successfully transfer those 12, but GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill strongly opposed the transfer of the two other Guantanamo detainees.

The State Department notified Congress Dec. 22 of its plans to transfer the two unidentified detainees overseas, according to a Senate email notification reported in The Hill newspaper at the time.

Because of the holiday congressional recess, many staffers for some key committees and members of Congress had already left Washington for vacation and only became aware of the plan to transfer the additional detainees in early January, amid the furor over the bombing plot's ties to al Qaeda in Yemen.

Lawmakers at the time would not say where the administration planned to send the two additional detainees because the information was classified.

Then-Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said only that one was intended to be sent to a country “of no concern.” He would not disclose the countries or names of the detainees because the material was classified.

Once GOP lawmakers learned of the administration's plans to repatriate the additional two detainees, they vociferously objected.

"We continue to send people back to countries that have weak central governments and ungoverned areas," Hoekstra told The Hill at the time. “It baffles the brain.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., also decried administration plans to carry out the release of the detainees int the wake of the bombing attempt.

"We are deeply concerned about pending transfers on the heels of the Christmas Day bombing and news reports suggesting that even more released GITMO detainees have returned to militant activities than previously thought," Sessions' spokesman Stephen Miller told The Hill in 2010.

A senior administration official at the time would not discuss any pending plans to release additional detainees but reiterated Obama’s commitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison because it has become a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and its affiliates – including Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The official also placed the blame for any recidivism squarely on Bush’s shoulders.

“We have been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight,” the official told The Hill.

“The president created the Guantanamo Review Task Force to conduct the thorough work that had not been done before: to review the relevant information about each detainee, including the threat they pose, to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained or transferred.

“Decisions about detainees are made on an individual basis only after all of that information is considered by an interagency group that include the Defense Department, law enforcement, and the intelligence community,” the official continued.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in its most recent annual report about recidivism rates of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay released in March, said five of the 82 detainees transferred during Obama's time in office have returned to the battlefield with two more suspected of returning.

There have been a total of 614 detainees released during both the Bush and Obama administrations. Of the 532 released during the Bush administration, the ODNI said 99 of them are confirmed to have returned to the fight, with 72 more suspected of re-engaging.

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Author:

Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner