The notion that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay was a recruitment tool for Islamic terrorists was always weak tea, but for an administration that coined the oxymoronic phrase “leading from behind” it was a compelling excuse for an executive order to shutter the prison there. Although Barack Obama never realized his promise to empty out Gitmo by the end of his first year, today he moved a little closer. He released Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in custody, and the second release in 42 hours. Together, that brings the prisoner population of Camp Delta down to 112.
So, who is Shaker Aamer? According to the BBC, he is a Saudi national who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He was detained on the basis that he had allegedly been involved in fighting at Tora Bora, the al Qaeda stronghold where U.S. forces had been hunting for Osama bin Laden.
Aamer initially denied any involvement in the fighting, maintaining he was in Afghanistan on a humanitarian mission. He later confessed to be being a “member of al Qaeda tied to the European support network” and a “close associate” of bin Laden himself, but then retracted his confession, claiming he he had made it under duress.
But a deeper intelligence assessment suggested that he was in fact part of a broad network of jihadist-minded individuals, influenced by the radical cleric Abu Qatada.
Although the 48-year-old Aamer was never formally charged and was cleared for release back in 2007, during the Bush years, the Pentagon has repeatedly expressed fears that if freed, he will “return to the battlefield.”
Indeed, those concerns are justified. On receiving word of his release, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there were “no plans” to detain him after his arrival, although he is likely to be met at the airport by British officials and detectives.
And if his case is handled the same as other returning detainees, he will soon be free to go on his way, though to where no one can say. At last count, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, 116 of 647 former detainees were confirmed to have re-engaged — a recidivism rate of 17.9% — with another 69 suspected of having re-upped with the enemy.
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