President Obama has opened a new front in his hard line against the incoming Republican Congress by releasing more detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, against lawmakers' objections.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that four al Qaeda fighters from Yemen, including a senior figure who facilitated travel to Afghanistan for Arab extremists, and a Tunisian extremist would be transferred to Slovakia and Georgia.
The transfers leave 143 detainees at Guantanamo, which Obama has vowed to close. Republican lawmakers, who have been pressing the administration to stop releasing detainees amid reports that some former prisoners had joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, were furious.
"If just one U.S. soldier loses their life over these transfers, we will have failed in our duty to the American people,” said outgoing House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon.
"What the Obama administration is doing is dangerous and, frankly, reckless. They have chosen many times to put politics above national security. It’s time they stop playing with fire and start doing what’s right. Until we can assure the terrorists stay off the battlefield, they must stay behind bars," the California Republican said.
McKeon wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Oct. 30 asking him to stop further transfers of detainees and confronted Hagel about the issue at a Nov. 13 committee hearing.
"Every time I certify and send up documentation to this committee, I am saying to this committee with my name and reputation that I believe that the assurances substantially mitigate the risk to this country and to our allies of certain detainee releases," Hagel told him.
According to the latest report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 107 of 620 detainees released from Guantanamo, or 17.3 percent, had been confirmed as returning to terrorism as of July 15, and another 77, or 12.4 percent, were suspected of having done so.
One of those, Abdul Raheem Muslim Dost, has emerged as a leader of the Islamic State in Pakistan, according to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
The four Yemenis all had been in U.S. custody since 2002 after having been captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan. One of them, Yafai, came into U.S. custody after having been arrested in Iran and handed over to the Afghans. According to an April 2008 assessment, he was judged to be a high risk for returning to his past activities and was recommended for continued detention.
"Detainee is a member of al Qaeda who served as a travel facilitator, providing false travel documents for Arab extremists transiting Iran for entry into Afghanistan," the assessment said.
Sliti, the Tunisian, was a member of the Tunisian Combatant Group, an Islamist extremist organization founded by his cousin. He was captured in December 2001 by the Pakistani army and handed over to U.S. custody.