On Thursday, Republicans called for the Obama administration to suspend detainee transfers from Guantanamo Bay following a Fox News report that as many as 20 to 30 former prisoners are suspected by intelligence and Defense officials of having joined forces with the Islamic State and other militant groups inside Syria.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement the development “underscores the risks we face when Guantanamo detainees are released based on a misguided desire to close Guantanamo — rather than the national security interests of the United States.”
She urged President Obama to suspend further transfers “at least until a thorough review can be conducted to better understand how many former Guantanamo detainees have joined ISIS and what we can do to prevent such an outcome in the future.”
Ayotte also wrote to Obama seeking more information about former detainees who have joined with the Islamic State, or ISIS, saying troops “should never have to confront a former Guantanamo detainee on the battlefield.”
But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, while acknowledging some detainees “have gone back to the fight,” stood by the administration’s Guantanamo policy. The intelligence on where detainees have gone offers a mixed picture, and officials say the figures are not exact. But they are certain at least some of the released detainees are fighting with the Islamic State, or ISIS, on the ground inside Syria. Others are believed to be supporting Al Qaeda or the affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria.
Senior Defense and intelligence officials say the vast majority of detainees released from Guantanamo don’t return to the fight — and of those who do, relatively few have made it to Syria.
But those 20-30 are still too many.
Nearly six years later, that effort has run aground, complicated by problems with relocating prisoners, by concerns about fighters returning to the battlefield and by Congress’ resistance to allowing any to be detained on the U.S. mainland.
In the previous administration, President George W. Bush authorized the release of 530 detainees, but Defense sources say the recent releases have included more hard-core fighters.
In April of this year, for instance, Ibrahim Bin Shakaran — a Moroccan who spent more than three years at Guantanamo — was reported killed while leading a known Jihadist group in Syria fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces. The Moroccan fighting unit was formed by three former Gitmo detainees.