The Current

Missing former Guantanamo inmates are 'worst nightmare' for U.S. officials: reporter

U.S. President Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise to halt the closure of Guantanamo Bay. He did so by closing the office responsible for shutting it down. But that office also tracked released inmates, and now some of them are missing. We look at the risks both to the public, and the former detainees.

Trump administration shut down office that resettled and tracked former inmates

Detainees at Camp X-Ray inside Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, on Jan. 11, 2002. (Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Department of Defense/Reuters)

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When U.S. President Donald Trump signed the order to keep Guantanamo Bay open, he shut down the State Department office responsible for closing it and resettling released detainees.

That office, called the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, was also responsible for tracking inmates already released.

Now several have gone missing.

One of the missing is Abu Wa'el Dhiab, "a Syrian man, a hunger striker and thorn in the side to the prison here, who was resettled in Uruguay during the Obama administration," said Carol Rosenberg, the journalist who uncovered the problem in a McClatchy investigation.

She told The Current's Michelle Shephard that Dhiab ran away and is "now in south central Turkey, going in and out of al-Nusra-controlled Syria, Idlib province."

They now have brand new staffers — Trump appointees — trying to catch up and manage these deals that went untended for at least a year.- Carol Rosenberg

The resettlement process was geared toward keeping former detainees away from places "where the U.S. continues to be at war," she said.

"This is their worst nightmare, potentially. This man should never have been allowed to get anywhere near Syria."

Responsibility for tracking the former inmates was moved to the office of U.S. Ambassador Nathan Sales, but the staff who had negotiated the resettlement deals were all deployed elsewhere, Rosenberg said. 

"They now have brand new staffers — Trump appointees — trying to catch up and manage these deals that went untended for at least a year."

The Current requested a comment from the U.S. State Department and from the Republican chairs of the House and Senate committees with responsibility for Guantanamo. They declined to comment or did not reply.

U.S. President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address on Jan. 30, 2018, when he revealed he had signed the order to keep Guantanamo Bay open. (Leah Mills/Reuters)

There is also a risk to the detainees themselves, Rosenberg said, explaining that two men who were resettled in Senegal have since been deported to their native Libya. The U.S. originally did not send them there, due to fears for their safety.

"After two years in Senegal, something went wrong apparently with U.S.-Senegalese relations, and the Senegalese put those two men on a plane, one of them against his will … and sent him back to Libya, even though he said he'd be killed there," Rosenberg said.

To discuss the implications of the missing detainees, Shephard spoke to:

  • Carol Rosenberg, a reporter with McClatchy, owner of The Miami Herald. Rosenberg has been covering Guantanamo since 2002.
  • Ramzi Kassem, a professor of law at City University of New York, and lawyer for Awad Khalifa, one of the Libyan men who settled in Senegal.
  • Daniel Fried, the first special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Produced by The Current's Julie Crysler and Caro Rolando.


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