What could go wrong? The Obama administration pushed its project to empty the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to a new level today. CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that the Department of Defense announced the release of a full-fledged member of al-Qaeda to Bosnia — one of the men who presented a threat to commercial airliners before getting captured in 2002 by purportedly inventing the shoe bomb:
DOD announces transfer of Gitmo detainee Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed Al Sawah to Bosnia. Member of AQ who developed IEDs to use v commercial planes
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 21, 2016
The Miami Herald reports that Sawah was one of three men granted release, but only two left:
The Pentagon disclosed Thursday that it sent two Guantánamo captives to start new lives in the Balkins in its continuing efforts to close the prison camps in southeast Cuba.
But in a strange twist, a cleared Yemeni prisoner named Mohammad Bwazir, 35, declined to leave Guantánamo for a nation that offered him sanctuary and was still at the detention center Thursday, dashing Obama administration hopes of downsizing to 90 detainees this month.
Bwazir’s lawyer, John Chandler, said the slight, sometime hunger striker feared going to a country where he didn’t have family. Chandler declined to say which country offered the Yemeni sanctuary — “It’s a country I’d go to in a heartbeat” — but said Bwazir couldn’t bring himself to board the U.S. military flight early Wednesday that delivered detainee Tariq el Sawah, 58, an Egyptian, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yemeni Abdulaziz al Swidi, 41, to Montenegro for resettlement.
“He’s been in Guantánamo so long that he was terrified about going to a country other than one where he had family,” Chandler told the Miami Herald. Bwazir understood he couldn’t go home to his native Yemen but wanted to go to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia or Indonesia where he had his mother, brothers or aunts and uncles.
How did Sawah end up at Gitmo? Here’s his CV, courtesy of a once-secret assessment of the captured terrorist made public by Wikileaks:
Detainee is an admitted member of al-Qaida who developed specialized improvised explosive devises (IEDs) for use against US military forces and civilians. These IEDs included the limpet mine to sink US naval vessels and the prototype for the shoe-bomb used in a failed attack on a civilian transatlantic flight. Prior to detention, detainee admitted teaching explosives at the al-Qaida advanced training camp at Tarnak Farm, aka (Abu Ubaydah Camp), where Usama Bin Laden (UBL) personally praised detainee for his “good work.” Detainee is associated with numerous explosives experts including some who remain at large. Detainee also associated with the planners and perpetrators of international terrorist attacks and other senior al-Qaida members, and may have had advanced knowledge of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Detainee participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces, and is a veteran extremist combatant.
He admitted fighting in the Bosnian war, and apparently Bosnia doesn’t mind having him back again. Sawah fought at Tora Bora and got injured by a cluster bomb, and ended up in the hands of the Northern Alliance for a while before being turned over to the US. Sawah has an interesting, if unusual, record at Gitmo, according to the DoD’s records. He gained over 200 pounds in his first four years of detention, becoming “morbidly obese” and a high-risk detainee for medical reasons. Sawah developed diabetes, liver impairment, and chronic low back pain due to lumbar-related spinal cord compression.
More interesting his the rest of his executive summary, though:
Executive Summary: Although detainee was occasionally hostile to the guard force and staff earlier in his detention, he has been compliant over the last four years. He continues to be a highly prolific source and has provided invaluable intelligence regarding explosives, al-Qaida, affiliated entities and their activities. If released, detainee will possibly reestablish extremist associations, but is unlikely to do so as his cooperation with the US government may serve to identify detainee as a target for revenge by those associates.
The question for Sawah might be which revenge takes place first — his revenge on the US for keeping him in Gitmo for over 15 years, or AQ’s revenge on him for being so cooperative. They certainly have found this on the New York Times’ website by now. Perhaps Sawah may not be anxious to return home.
The DoD undoubtedly factored this into their decision to release Sawah. At the time of this 2008 report, they rated him a medium risk to return to terrorism, noting that he’d be more likely to steer clear of former comrades than seek them out, but that Sawah was still of high value as an intelligence asset. The Obama administration dropped charges against Sawah in 2012, and then the DoD cleared him for release nearly a year ago. Perhaps it took this long for another country to accept him.
By the way, Sawidi’s assessment in 2008 also noted his expertise in explosives, refused to cooperate in most instances, and ranked his threat level to the US as high. I’m sure he’ll just move back into normal life when he arrives in Montenegro.