Not a single high-value detainee has been sent to the terrorist detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) since Barack Obama became president, but Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Inhofe hopes to change that with legislation.
Critics contend the president’s policy has hamstrung the intelligence community in their efforts to collect intelligence about potential terror suspects and thwart their plans. The Obama administration has instead opted to detain and interrogate detainees it considers to be of high value in Afghanistan under the eyes of the CIA and the FBI.
Enhanced rendition interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were banned by President Obama shortly after he took office, and interrogators may now only use those techniques permitted in the Army Field Manual.
Current policies and interference from the Afghan government make it extremely difficult to interrogate and keep track of detainees once they are caught in Afghanistan. This has reportedly angered many American service personnel, and The Washington Examiner quoted a marine as having described efforts to capture Taliban members as “worthless.”
“Once we find them and begin to interrogate them, we don’t have a free hand,” Inhofe told The Daily Caller. “We need to get a lot of these high-value detainees who are high enough up…That’s how we got Osama bin Laden.”
Inhofe calls the Afghanistan detention facilities “revolving doors” because we don’t have any idea who is coming and going.
“Some 400 of them in Afghanistan are out trying to kill Americans again ̶ the ones we actually caught,” Inhofe said, referring to the detainees who have been caught by the U.S. and who have been let go due to interference from the Afghan government.
Other independent estimates place that number closer to 500.
Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy and a former assistant secretary of Defense under Reagan, called the current policy “crazy” and said detaining these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and subjecting them to interrogations there should be put back on the table.
“Other bad ideas include handing them (detainees) over to the Afghans because of jailbreaks and their having shown their inability to detain them securely,” Gaffney said.
Many contend, including intelligence officials, that detainee interrogations at Guantanamo Bay thwarted al-Qaida terror plots such as attacks on domestic tourist sites in 2003 and 2004, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s plot to blow up tall buildings across the United States and a 2003 plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, among others.
“We got all of our initial leads from Gitmo from high-value detainees,” Inhofe said. “We have only 17 people there now; we ought to have 800.”
The Obama administration’s revolving door policy on high-value detainees is part and parcel of its weakness on security policy, according to Steve Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Current legislation makes who is and who is not a high-value detainee a matter of subjective opinion, but Inhofe’s bill, S 1046, would legally define high-value detainees as senior members of the Taliban or al-Qaida, anyone with knowledge of immanent terrorist threats to the United States or its allies, those who are directly involved in terror plots and those who would be a renewed terror threat were they to be released.
Sending such high-value detainees to Gitmo would not be without risks, according to Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Charles “Cully” Stimson, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs in the Bush administration.
“The executive branch has wide latitude to decide where to send detainees captured during a time of war,” Stimson said. “There would be serious consequences were what is being suggested in the bill to happen.”
One of the advantages of keeping detainees in Afghanistan rather than in Guantanamo Bay is they cannot challenge their detention through the civil courts because of their status as unlawful combatants.
But that would change should Inhofe’s bill to make it into law because court precedent has recognized that Guantanamo Bay detainees have the right to continually challenge their detention even if they lose the first time, according to Stimson.
Inhofe defends his stance on the issue, arguing Gitmo’s ability to hold military tribunals makes it a logical place to house these high-value detainees.
“There is no place anywhere near the United States or anywhere that can have these things because the rules of evidence are different; you have to have it so that the media is expelled from certain things when they come up,” Inhofe said. “We don’t want these guys hanging around the United States with their Miranda rights and constitutional rights.
“We want to bring these guys there, so we can try them. The second thing is we want to be able to detain them and interrogate them.”
The ACLU was contacted for this story but did not comment.