While Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has waged a comfortable war of words against the U.S. terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, former detainees of the GITMO prison have been killing Americans according to the Obama Administration. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that top administration officials are admitting that up to 12 former Guantanamo Bay detainees released from the prison have participated in or carried out numerous attacks on Americans. A total of at least six Americans – and likely more – have been killed in the attacks, including a female aid worker in Afghanistan.
According to the Post, news that at least a dozen terrorists had returned to the fight against Americans emerged in March, but details about their lethality on the battlefield were not confirmed until recently. All detainees were released during the George W. Bush Administration, but the wholesale release or relocation of GITMO residents has been supported by both President Barack Obama and Sen. Russ Feingold.
Feingold’s support for releasing some terrorist detainees and relocating others so they can be tried in civilian U.S. courts has been a hallmark of his foreign policy. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay “is harming our ability to gain respect and cooperation of other nations, and I fear that it is giving the terrorists a potent recruiting tool,” the senator said in 2007.
Two years later, Feingold praised President Obama for pledging “to close Guantanamo, which is being used as a recruiting tool by our enemies” and said “I look forward to continuing to work with him to restore the rule of law and put in place policies that will keep America safe and reduce the threats to our country that have grown more challenging because of the missteps of the last administration.”
At a Senate hearing in 2009, Feingold said the time for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was nearing, “I look forward to an open dialogue on these very difficult and important questions as the time for closing Guantanamo approaches.”
But away from Feingold’s theoretical railing against Guantanamo and hypothetical assertions that its mere existence made Americans less safe, real terrorists released from GITMO were returning to the fight against U.S. military personnel and U.S. allies.
In 2009 the Boston Globe reported that national security officials found that top Al Qaeda operatives were infiltrating Yemen in an attempt to further destabilize an already fragile country and establish a base of operations. The Globe reported:
“Several of the leading Al Qaeda figures now in Yemen were released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including Ibrahaim Al Rubaish, one of the groups’ leading religious ideologues, who is affectionately known as the ‘poet of Guantanamo,’ according to militant videos broadcast on the Internet and considered authentic by US intelligence officials.”
Without any sense of irony, Feingold was quoted in the story complaining that the rise of Al Qaeda in Yemen was proof the Obama Administration wasn’t focusing on the right priorities in the Global War on Terror. The Globe reported:
“Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he believes the Obama administration needs a far more global strategy to prevent Al Qaeda from taking root in Yemen and other failed states such as Somalia.
“‘We are making a very strategic error in the war against Al Qaeda,’ Feingold said in an interview, adding that applying US military and economic resources almost entirely to Afghanistan and Pakistan is a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the threat.”
Feingold’s opposition to Guantanamo Bay has translated into several votes on the Senate floor. In 2009 he voted in favor of tabling an amendment to a defense-related spending bill that would have prohibited the construction of any facility in the U.S. or on U.S. territory that would have replaced GITMO. In October of that year Feingold voted against yet another defense spending bill that specifically prohibited the transfer of GITMO detainees to U.S. prisons unless Congress first approved of the plan. The bill also contained modest pay raises for service members.
In contrast to Feingold’s love affair with shutting down Guantanamo at all costs, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has introduced legislation to require greater transparency should the facility ever be completely eliminated. Johnson wants the executive branch to notify Congress any time a Guantanamo detainee is released, where they are going, what their final destination is expected or intended to be, and an explanation for why that detainee is being released in that country, as well as an assessment of how many GITMO detainees released through that country have returned to the fight against U.S. or allied forces.