Counter-Terrorism: Guantanamo All Over Again


July 27, 2019: Europe is now facing the same situation the United States confronted in 2002 when hundreds of Islamic terrorists were captured in Afghanistan and it was unclear what could be done with them. By 2009 that was still an unresolved problem and ten years later the Americans are not the only ones forced to deal with it. European nations, after accepting millions of illegal Moslem migrants who refused to adapt to their new homeland, found that thousands of their Moslem residents went off after 2014 to join the “Islamic State” in Syria. Most of those European Moslems were killed, captured or, for the moment, are untraceable.

Many of these Islamic State zealots were known to have committed crimes, often gruesome ones that they made videos of the posted on the Internet. Most of those captured in Syria and Iraq want to return to Europe and Europe does not know how to handle those requests coming from those accused of serious crimes, The U.S. faced the same situation in 2002 after capturing over a thousand known or suspected Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan. The American solution was Guantanamo Bay prison. Europeans were highly critical of the Guantanamo solution, which kept Islamic terrorists in custody without a trial because there was not enough evidence to assure conviction in a Western court. If released these men were often quite blunt about admitting they would resume their terrorist ways. Since Guantanamo Bay was in Cuba, the prisoners did not have the right to demand a trial and then walk for lack of enough evidence. Now the Europeans are faced with the same situation as Islamic State veterans return, openly or illegally. The Europeans admit that their citizens are now at risk of more Islamic terror attacks in Europe and the European governments have, so far, not come up with any better solution than Guantanamo Bay. European governments are unwilling to admit that Guantanamo Bay is now a reasonable option for themselves and are instead trying to ignore the situation in the hope it will go away, or, more likely, their citizens will be satisfied with government an unofficial policy of insisting “we did the best we could” after the next Islamic terror attack in Europe.

At this point, the United States is not the only country unsure what to do with captured Islamic terrorists and the American experience is not encouraging. For example, by 2007 the U.S. had about a thousand terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay and prisons in other foreign countries. The captives were not kept in the United States, because of the risk of legal pressure to try them in American courts, where it is likely that intelligence information, sources and foreign contacts would be revealed. Other countries had less risk of that happening, but they still had to decide what to do with the Islamic radicals, who often make no secret of what they would do if they got loose.

Perhaps the strangest situation was found in northern Iraq, where the autonomous Kurdish government had, by 2007 held nearly two thousand Islamic terrorists, or men suspected of being terrorists. The Kurds had captured these men since 2003 and kept them in prison, which is one reason the Kurds managed to keep their territory largely free of the terrorist violence that was rampant in the rest of Iraq. Thus the Kurds were, and still are, reluctant to let any of these prisoners free. The Kurds knew, for example, that dozens of the men the United States had already freed from Guantanamo Bay, were subsequently caught participating in terrorist operations. For many of the Kurd prisoners, there is not enough hard evidence to convict them in a court trial, especially using Western rules. Eventually, the Kurds turned most of these prisoners over to the Iraqi government. Some were punished but many arranged for a bribe to be paid to the right person and walked free. A decade later the Syrian Kurds have captured even more Islamic terrorists and are threatening to turn them loose if the nations these terrorists came from do not take them back. Western nations still don’t know how to handle this.

It has been pointed out that in the West dealing with these Islamic terrorists is like trying to convict soldiers, caught not wearing a uniform, of being at war with you. That's the problem with a war against terrorists. To succeed, the terrorists have to remain undetected. Those that are caught are often guilty only of talking about committing terrorist acts, not actually doing (or even attempting) it. On one extreme, the suspected terrorists can be treated as criminals, prosecuted, and released if a case cannot be made in court. But the point of terrorism is to terrorize, and when you do that, many nations are willing to just lock up terrorists, and keep them locked up until the terror goes away. Politicians, although under a lot of pressure to treat the terrorists as common criminals, also know they would be toast if an "innocent" terrorist was later caught killing people. That attitude, once very popular in Europe, is now less popular after years of enduring the violent impact of Islamic terrorism. While European politicians are trying to ignore all this their constituents are losing patience and voting for more protection from Islamic terrorism.

Europeans had good reason to be angry. In early 2009 it was revealed that 14 percent of the 534 Guantanamo prisoners released so far from had returned to terrorist activities. This was not a big surprise, except for the extent of the recidivism. There had long been reports of men released from Guantanamo backsliding. Before the Guantanamo revelation, Saudi Arabia announced that at least 14 of the 117 Saudis released from Guantanamo Bay had returned to terrorist activities. At that point, there were still 22 Saudis at Guantanamo Bay, along with about 201 other hardcore terrorists. Saudi Arabia said it would either rehabilitate or keep jailed, those released from Guantanamo Bay. Thus the admission that 14 of these men returned to terrorism (and 11 are still on the loose) was embarrassing. As of 2019, there were still 40 prisoners at Guantanamo. Since 2009 most had been released to Moslem majority nations that said they would be responsible for them. Many of those released returned to Islamic terrorism but Moslem nations tended to ignore that and point out that most of those released did not return to being terrorists.

The Saudis believed that their rehab program was been a success. Many young men who were leaning towards a life of terrorism responded to some good attitude adjustment. But this reminds the Saudis that the hardcore will just go through the motions. The Saudis continue to have problems with "rehabilitated" terrorists returning to terror. But they consider it an acceptable cost, compared to the large number of men they persuade to give up terrorism, and often become an informer.

At the same time (2009) the problem with the 223 remaining Guantanamo prisoners was that, if the prison was shut down (which, in late 2009, a newly elected U.S. government promised to do), you had to send these men somewhere. There was a lot of opposition to sending some prisoners back to their own country because these guys are often wanted there for terrorist activity. For that reason, Guantanamo remains operational.

There was, and still is, fear among American officials that these terrorists might be tortured or executed if prosecuted in their homelands. But that is less of a problem than many nations, including the United States, unwilling to take terrorist suspects that are citizens of Western nations. These Islamic terrorists were captured overseas by someone that is on good terms with the United States but cannot, literally, afford to keep these terrorists imprisoned. If 14 percent of them revert to terrorism when free, whoever approved letting it happen is in big political trouble. Sending the terror suspects to U.S. prisons is an uncertain solution, as the U.S. legal system is vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist suspects, and they could be freed, within the United States. That has rarely happened because the Americans changed their laws to better deal with terrorism suspects but still had a problem with the many Islamic terrorists captured overseas who were more likely to avoid prison and be free to resume their terrorist ways.

Some believe that Saudi Arabia, the homeland of many Arab Islamic terrorists, and much of the theology driving groups like al Qaeda, has developed ways to deal with the problem. The Saudis have arrested several thousand terrorist suspects, and released or rehabilitated most of them, in the last six years. But Saudi Arabia is a very different kind of place than the rest of the world. Between 2003 and 2007 Saudi Arabia foiled over a dozen attacks, mainly on oil facilities or foreigners working in the kingdom. Since 2007 there has still been Islamic terrorist activity in Saudi Arabia, but a lot less than you would expect. While Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, the royal family spreads the wealth around, thus most Saudis are opposed to al Qaeda attempts to damage the oil production and shipment facilities and removing the Sauds from power.

Saudi counter-terror efforts have to keep in mind that many Saudis support the idea that Islam is under attack (if only culturally) by the West, and that it's generally OK to kill non-Moslems abroad. Before 2003, Saudi Arabia tended to leave Islamic radicals alone as long as they did no violence in the kingdom. This is still the custom as an Islamic terrorist can live in the kingdom as long as they promise to behave. But that does not prevent these men from supporting terrorism elsewhere. Many other countries, particularly in Europe, were willing to operate this way. Terrorism supporters in these sanctuaries provide money and recruits for places where terrorists can operate more openly (Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan.) That tolerance was eventually exposed as wishful thinking and even the Saudis have become much less tolerant of Islamic radical activity at home.

This sort of thing was worse in Iraq. In 2009 alone the U.S. had released over 5,000 suspected terrorists it was holding there. Even before the year was over about one percent of those released had been killed carrying out terror attacks, or arrested by Iraqi police for being part of terrorist groups. Iraqi and American counter-terrorism warned that a wholesale release of American held terror suspects would get people killed. But letting all those men (they were mostly men, and mostly Sunni Arabs) go was the politically correct thing to do, and off they went. Several hundred Iraqis, and a few Americans, at least, died as a result, by the end of 2009. Subsequently, many more of those released in 2009 were killed or arrested as a result of their terrorist activity. It may never be known exactly how many of the released suspects returned to their murderous ways. All of them were held because there was some evidence of involvement in terrorist activity. But the Iraqi police would not accept all the American evidence or, in many cases, did not consider it sufficient for an Iraqi arrest warrant. All this was driven by the desire to empty the U.S. prisons, without overwhelming the Iraqi justice system. Mission accomplished.

The U.S. government tried to keep secret its data on the released terrorism suspects who returned to killing, because knowledge of who they know is back at it, would reveal what they know and how they came to know it. The American counter-terror officials are desperate to guard their secrets, since secrecy about what you know, and how you know it, is crucial in tracking down and catching terrorists. Eventually, the numbers do emerge, via news reports of who carried out what terror attack and what their background was. “Earlier arrested for terrorist activity” became a common phrase in those news stories. Europeans are hearing that phrase a lot more and that is not a popular trend there.




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