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Posted by on Dec 29, 2009 in Politics, War | 8 comments

The Gitmo Connection to the Underwear Bomber

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Via ABC News:  Two al Qaeda Leaders Behind Northwest Flight 253 Terror Plot Were Released by U.S.

Two of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit were released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Northwest bombing in a Monday statement that vowed more attacks on Americans.

No doubt many will conclude from this that it proves that everyone detained by the US should be locked up and the key promptly thrown away (see, for example, here).  Of course, at this point there is hardly enough information upon which to base much of a conclusion.

Indeed, James Joyner rightly notes that there are a range of possibilities regarding the relevance of the Guantanamo connection:

The most obvious alternatives are that we either let free two very dangerous men or that two formerly less-than-dangerous men were radicalized by their imprisonment.  Either way, it’s rather clear that our screening mechanisms are not very good.

My own immediate assessment is that this situation, assuming the report is accurate, simply underscores the lack of an adequate process in place to deal with these prisoners.  It is really scandalous that in the over eight years since the start of the “war on terror” that the United States Government has failed to construct an adequate process by which to determine the disposition of those in our custody.  Yes, I know rules have been been made, but it is difficult to actually examine their application and come away satisfied.  For just some examples along those lines see here, here, here, here, and here.

A word of caution on the connections cited in the ABC piece comes from an unlikely source, The Weekly StandardFormer Gitmo Detainees “Behind” Christmas Day Terrorist Plot?

In sum, we know the following: AQAP has claimed responsibility for the attack and this is consistent with other evidence, including Abdulmutallab’s own admissions. Some of AQAP’s most senior positions are held by former Gitmo detainees, so there is a strong possibility that they played a role in this attack. But we should be cautious when speculating because nothing definitive has yet been reported.

As several bloggers have noted (for example, here, here, and here), it is worth noting that the individuals under discussion were released during the Bush administration and not as part of the Obama administration’s plans for the prison at Guantanamo.

Note:  I am not using the term “Underwear Bomber” to diminish the seriousness of the event, I just can’t think of a better shorthand.  I recognize that the term has a giggle-factor that isn’t really appropriate to the seriousness of the story.

Cross-posted from PoliBlog.  More posts on this topic:

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