After the Trump administration closed the office tasked with tracking released Guantanamo detainees to ensure they did not return to their insurgencies, the U.S. government is unable to find several former inmates, including one who returned to a terrorist-held part of Syria, according to McClatchy DC.
The Obama administration created the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure with a mandate to negotiate and follow up on prisoner releases. President Donald Trump’s State Department emptied the office to underscore his campaign promise to keep open the U.S. military prison in Cuba, which today has 40 detainees.
One of the most glaring examples is that of former captive Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian who vanished from Uruguay last summer. Jose Gonzalez, executive adviser to Uruguay’s Interior Minister, told McClatchy that Dhiab walked across the Uruguay-Brazilian border, took a bus to Sao Paolo and caught a flight to Turkey. The Turkish Embassy in Washington said a search of Interior Ministry records found no evidence that he had arrived there.
Dhiab has been detected in south central Turkey where he has slipped in and out of the rebel held Idlib province, controlled by the al-Qaida affiliate al Nusra Front, according to a Syrian diplomatic source, citing Syrian intelligence. His mother is receiving medical care in Turkey, the Syrian said.
McClatchy said Dhiab’s disappearance amounted to a “perfect storm”: The government lost track of him as a “troubled Obama administration resettlement deal that went off the rails at a time when the State Department had no meaningful monitoring of detainee releases.”
U.S. intelligence and State Department officials would not discuss Dhiab’s whereabouts. Spokesman Alexander Vagg said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently assigned the Counterterrorism Bureau to start addressing “any issues stemming from the arrangements made between the Obama administration and foreign partners regarding the resettlement of former Guantánamo Bay detainees.”
The last State Department envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, Lee Wolosky, said he had been receiving phone calls from foreign envoys and other concerned people — even though he left government at the close of the Obama administration — because “they have no one to talk to in the U.S. government.”
Working toward the goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay facility, the Obama administration worked out deals with 30 countries to take in men who could not be returned to their home countries, due to “domestic instability or poor human rights records”.
Terms of the deals have never been made public but Obama administration officials said the host countries would provide housing, living stipends and language classes if necessary to help them adapt. As a rule, the host countries agreed to not provide them travel documents for their first two years.
The Obama administration released nearly 200 prisoners — nine returned to the battlefield and another 17 are suspected of doing so, according to the ODNI’s CounterTerrorism Center.
When President Trump took over the White House, changes were made to the handling of the program:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson closed the office and assigned the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs to handle any problems that arose in the transfers — a move House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., protested as ineffective, according to the committee aide.