Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ali al-Shihri

Terrorist Recidivism

I recall visiting Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago and being briefed by Saudi officials on their program to reeducate and rehabilitate Islamist extremists in their prisons. The program had long been seen as a model effort; it influenced a similar program created in the U.S. detention system in Iraq that is now being replicated in Afghanistan. But recent events suggest the Saudi program was not all it was cracked up to be.

As the Financial Times notes, “The revelation that two of the alleged leaders of the plot to blow up a US passenger jet were released by a Saudi militant rehabilitation centre has thrown a renewed spotlight on the programme and the kingdom’s response to terrorism.” That includes Said bin Ali al-Shihri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Overall, the FT reports, 120 inmates from Guantanamo were released to the Saudis under the Bush administration. The result? The paper quotes Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Middle East program: “Of the Guantánamo prisoners, about 26 are wanted, in custody or killed – it is about [a] 20 per cent failure rate.”

That should be of great concern. The Obama administration is right to suspend repatriations of detainees to Yemen; perhaps it should suspend sending them to Saudi Arabia, as well. The Saudis have done an impressive job of cracking down on terrorists within the kingdom, but the suspicion remains that they deal with some of these troublemakers by encouraging them to emigrate to countries like Yemen or Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the problems there — and potentially here in the United States as well. The real issue is not the fate of Gitmo; it is whether we are locking up dangerous terrorists, whether on Cuban or American soil. Continued detainee releases — which, it should be noted, started under the Bush administration — are endangering our safety.

I recall visiting Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago and being briefed by Saudi officials on their program to reeducate and rehabilitate Islamist extremists in their prisons. The program had long been seen as a model effort; it influenced a similar program created in the U.S. detention system in Iraq that is now being replicated in Afghanistan. But recent events suggest the Saudi program was not all it was cracked up to be.

As the Financial Times notes, “The revelation that two of the alleged leaders of the plot to blow up a US passenger jet were released by a Saudi militant rehabilitation centre has thrown a renewed spotlight on the programme and the kingdom’s response to terrorism.” That includes Said bin Ali al-Shihri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Overall, the FT reports, 120 inmates from Guantanamo were released to the Saudis under the Bush administration. The result? The paper quotes Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Middle East program: “Of the Guantánamo prisoners, about 26 are wanted, in custody or killed – it is about [a] 20 per cent failure rate.”

That should be of great concern. The Obama administration is right to suspend repatriations of detainees to Yemen; perhaps it should suspend sending them to Saudi Arabia, as well. The Saudis have done an impressive job of cracking down on terrorists within the kingdom, but the suspicion remains that they deal with some of these troublemakers by encouraging them to emigrate to countries like Yemen or Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the problems there — and potentially here in the United States as well. The real issue is not the fate of Gitmo; it is whether we are locking up dangerous terrorists, whether on Cuban or American soil. Continued detainee releases — which, it should be noted, started under the Bush administration — are endangering our safety.

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Enough with the Yemen Terrorist Pipeline

The Obami are a stubborn lot. Even new and troubling evidence regarding the inanity of releasing dangerous Guantanamo detainees cannot shake them from their fixation with closing the facility. Administration background briefers tell the media — still – that we have to shut Guantanamo to protect our “values.” (Does “common sense” or “the right of self-defense” make the list of values?) “Close Guantanamo!” was a campaign slogan devised with little information and pronounced in the heady opening days of the new Obama administration, before the commander in chief could survey the obvious political and practical problems of shuttering a secure, humane facility that could indefinitely hold those who would surely, if given the chance, return to kill more Americans.

Not only Republicans but  Senate Intelligence Chairman Diane Feinstein are pleading with the administration to at the very least halt the release of detainees to Yemen, something which conservatives including Rep. Frank Wolf has been strenuously objecting to for some time. The facts about the Yemen connection are just beginning to emerge:

The al Qaeda chapter in Yemen has re-emerged under the leadership of a former secretary to Osama bin Laden. Along with a dozen other al Qaeda members, he was allowed to escape from a Yemeni jail in 2006. His deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, was a Saudi inmate at Gitmo who after his release “graduated” from that country’s terrorist “rehabilitation” program before moving to Yemen last year. About a fifth of the so-called graduates have ended back on the Saudi terror most-wanted list, according to a GAO study this year.

And we are told that investigators (to the extent they can get information from the now-lawyered up “defendant” and from other sources) are exploring whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “was in contact with al-Shihri and another Guantanamo alum who turned up at the AQAP, Muhammad al-Awfi.” We also know from an earlier release study that “one in seven freed Gitmo detainees—61 in all—returned to terrorism. Al-Shihri and Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, the Taliban’s operations leader in southern Afghanistan, are merely the best known. The Pentagon has since updated its findings, and we’re told the numbers are even worse.” It would be nice to know more about the extent of the Yemen recidivism problem, but as Stephen Hayes has reported, the Obama administration has refused to release that data to members of Congress and the public at large. (We can guess why.) And, finally, it appears that Anwar Al-Awlaki, Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite imam, who recently escaped a raid in Yemen, provided some “spiritual guidance” to Abdulmutallab, as well.

It is remarkable that before the Christmas Day bombing, the administration thought it was a good idea to dump detainees back into Yemen. After all, the administration — one supposes the president, specifically — did order a predator bombing in that country to strike a hotbed of terrorist activity. So why would they then and even after the Abdulmutallab bombing attack want to persist in effect with resupplying places like Yemen with Guantanamo detainees? It is nothing short of jaw-dropping, really. And it reveals the degree to which ideology has overtaken sound judgment.

The Obami are a stubborn lot. Even new and troubling evidence regarding the inanity of releasing dangerous Guantanamo detainees cannot shake them from their fixation with closing the facility. Administration background briefers tell the media — still – that we have to shut Guantanamo to protect our “values.” (Does “common sense” or “the right of self-defense” make the list of values?) “Close Guantanamo!” was a campaign slogan devised with little information and pronounced in the heady opening days of the new Obama administration, before the commander in chief could survey the obvious political and practical problems of shuttering a secure, humane facility that could indefinitely hold those who would surely, if given the chance, return to kill more Americans.

Not only Republicans but  Senate Intelligence Chairman Diane Feinstein are pleading with the administration to at the very least halt the release of detainees to Yemen, something which conservatives including Rep. Frank Wolf has been strenuously objecting to for some time. The facts about the Yemen connection are just beginning to emerge:

The al Qaeda chapter in Yemen has re-emerged under the leadership of a former secretary to Osama bin Laden. Along with a dozen other al Qaeda members, he was allowed to escape from a Yemeni jail in 2006. His deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, was a Saudi inmate at Gitmo who after his release “graduated” from that country’s terrorist “rehabilitation” program before moving to Yemen last year. About a fifth of the so-called graduates have ended back on the Saudi terror most-wanted list, according to a GAO study this year.

And we are told that investigators (to the extent they can get information from the now-lawyered up “defendant” and from other sources) are exploring whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “was in contact with al-Shihri and another Guantanamo alum who turned up at the AQAP, Muhammad al-Awfi.” We also know from an earlier release study that “one in seven freed Gitmo detainees—61 in all—returned to terrorism. Al-Shihri and Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, the Taliban’s operations leader in southern Afghanistan, are merely the best known. The Pentagon has since updated its findings, and we’re told the numbers are even worse.” It would be nice to know more about the extent of the Yemen recidivism problem, but as Stephen Hayes has reported, the Obama administration has refused to release that data to members of Congress and the public at large. (We can guess why.) And, finally, it appears that Anwar Al-Awlaki, Major Nadal Hassan’s favorite imam, who recently escaped a raid in Yemen, provided some “spiritual guidance” to Abdulmutallab, as well.

It is remarkable that before the Christmas Day bombing, the administration thought it was a good idea to dump detainees back into Yemen. After all, the administration — one supposes the president, specifically — did order a predator bombing in that country to strike a hotbed of terrorist activity. So why would they then and even after the Abdulmutallab bombing attack want to persist in effect with resupplying places like Yemen with Guantanamo detainees? It is nothing short of jaw-dropping, really. And it reveals the degree to which ideology has overtaken sound judgment.

Read Less




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