Senate Republicans are pressing the Obama administration for documents that outline procedures used in releasing terrorism-suspect detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, information the Justice Department and State Department have previously withheld.
In an effort by the GOP to provide greater oversight of the administration’s war on terrorism, seven members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including the presumed next vice chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, last month signed letters seeking the documents.
“The transfers of potentially dangerous detainees to countries with questionable capabilities to provide security and monitoring has been a matter of significant concern for the committee,” the senators stated in a Dec. 9 letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
“These concerns are bolstered by comments from officials in the Department of Justice and the intelligence community that the only way to completely mitigate the threat posed by the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees is to keep them in custody.”
Congressional aides said the Republicans on the Senate intelligence panel are working on a minority report to be issued this year on the handling of the 60 to 70 detainees from the prison at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who have been transferred to foreign countries since President Obama took office.
A recent Defense Intelligence Agency study on the recidivism rate of detainees found that 150 of those released from the Guantanamo Bay prison are confirmed or suspected to have returned to terrorism. President George W. Bush released more than 500 suspected terrorists from the prison.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Wednesday, noting that The Washington Times was unable to provide the full letter for review.
The Justice Department has provided classified briefings on the transfer process to members of the House and Senate. On Jan. 22, the Justice Department released an unclassified report from the task force detailing whether 240 detainees would face military trial or civilian trial, or be detained indefinitely or transferred.
“It’s important to find out what criteria the task force used to evaluate the threat level posed by each individual detainee,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
“It is also important to find out whether or not President Obama’s executive order led the task force to be more aggressive in approving transfers,” said Mr. Joscelyn.
The Republicans’ letter to Mr. Holder specifically asks for a 2009 memorandum on the detainee review and transfer processes. The senators wrote that they thought the memo recommended that Mr. Obama’s Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force apply a presumption in favor of transfer rather than continued detention.
The letter also requests “the unredacted recommendations contained in the Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force evaluation worksheets,” or the reviews for each detainee on the risk he would pose if released.
The senators also requested a list of the 92 detainees that the task force initially approved to transfer out of the prison. “Although your Office of Legislative Affairs agreed to make this list available, requests for information regarding when the list will be provided have gone unanswered,” the letter stated.
Mr. Obama, on his second day in office, pledged to close the prison by the end of his first year in office — a move designed to satisfy civil libertarians who oppose the terrorist detention center.
Nearly two years into the Obama administration, the prison — a destination for detainees captured in Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terrorism for Mr. Bush — remains open.
The 2011 defense-authorization bill that is awaiting Mr. Obama’s signature or veto imposes new restrictions on funding the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States or a foreign country.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday urged Mr. Obama to issue a signing statement with the defense bill that would clarify that the legislation restricts only the Defense Department and not the State Department or other federal agencies from continuing to transfer the remaining detainees from the Guantanamo prison.
In the letter, the seven senators asked for more information on the detainee-transfer process. That request included a list of countries with which the United States has negotiated transfer agreements, as well as written agreements with countries to monitor the transferred detainees.
The letter stated that the State Department has told the committee that it “does not disclose the written contents of its arrangements with a foreign government beyond the executive branch.”
The senators also requested any relevant diplomatic cables that detail the diplomacy with other countries on accepting detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Diplomatic cables disclosed in the past month by WikiLeaks show that U.S. diplomats have devoted time to persuading governments in Europe and the Middle East to accept the transferred prisoners from the Guantanamo prison. The cables also show at times that U.S. counterterrorism officials privately were wary that some countries, including Yemen, would be able to keep the detainees in prison after the transfer.
The Obama administration has sent detainees to Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Yemen and Afghanistan, among other destinations.
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