Former Gitmo Inmate Now al Qaeda Leader
Two men released from the US “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have appeared in a video posted on a jihadist website, the SITE monitoring service reported. One of the two former inmates, a Saudi man identified as Abu Sufyan al-Azdi al-Shahri, or prisoner number 372, has been elevated to the senior ranks of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, a US counter-terrorism official told AFP. Three other men appear in the video, including Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi, identified as an Al-Qaeda field commander. SITE later said he was prisoner No. 333.A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, on Saturday declined to confirm the SITE information. “We remain concerned about ex-Guantanamo detainees who have re-affiliated with terrorist organizations after their departure,” said Gordon. “We will continue to work with the international community to mitigate the threat they pose,” he said.
On the video, al-Shihri is seen sitting with three other men before a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq, the front for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. “By Allah, imprisonment only increased our persistence in our principles for which we went out, did jihad for, and were imprisoned for,” al-Shihri was quoted as saying.
Al-Shiri was transferred from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia in 2007, the US counter-terrorism official said.
Obviously, if these two men were still being held prisoner indefinitely, they would have had a hard time making this tape. And, if they’re in fact senior leaders and commanders in al Qaeda, it would seem just as obvious that they should in fact still be locked up. (Note: A couple of bloggers have treated this news as as additional piece of evidence piled upon Wednesday’s NYT story “Freed by the U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief.” In actuality, said chief is the above-pictured al-Shahri.)
But here’s the thing: Former prisoners in our criminal justice system are let out all the time, either because they’ve completed their sentence, earned parole, a jury couldn’t be persuaded to convict them, or various other reasons. A sizable portion of those people then go on to commit other crimes. We nonetheless have not adopted a policy of keeping everyone who comes through the doors of our prison system locked up indefinitely as a precautionary measure.
Are al Qaeda terrorists different than American citizens suspected of committing crimes? They are. We’ve got more discretion at our disposal under international law than in our domestic system. We can hold al Qaeda commanders caught on the field of battle “for the duration” of hostilities which, theoretically, is forever since this is a “long war” with no foreseeable end. But, under the terms of international treaties that we’ve not only committed ourselves but led the way in negotiating, we have to provide some minimal level of due process establishing that these people are who we say they are. Rather clearly, we were unable to do that in the case of these two individuals.
I don’t like the outcome here. I’d rather have these two guys (and the numerous others Jim Hoft links to at the bottom of this post) still under the control of the American military. But not at the price of a system that violates our treaty obligations and keeps hundreds of innocents locked up simply because we can’t distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and therefore treat them all like the latter.