Remember When that “Recidivist” Jabir al-Fayfi Saved American Lives?

It’s recidivist season again, when the DNI releases data about how many Gitmo detainees have “reengaged” and fear-mongering reporters (including, uncharacteristically, Mark Hosenball) then describe how many “recidivists” from Gitmo there have been.

Of course, even while DNI brags about how detailed the new numbers are, they are just that. A list of numbers: 12, 28, 52, 0, 0, 3, with just the following description of what DNI considers “reengagement” (or, of course, engagement for the first time, but no one wants to admit that throwing someone innocent in Gitmo for a decade might radicalize someone) in terrorism.

Definition of “Terrorist” or “Insurgent” Activities. Activities such as the following indicate involvement in terrorist or insurgent activities: planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against Coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, and arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations. It does not include mere communications with individuals or organizations—including other former GTMO detainees—on issues not related to terrorist operations, such as reminiscing about shared experiences at GTMO, communicating with past terrorist associates about non-nefarious activities, writing anti-U.S. books or articles, or making anti-U.S. propaganda statements.

Without a list of actual names, no one can check DNI’s claims or–as I did when the House Armed Services Committee last engaged in this game–point out that someone who once was claimed to be a recidivist, Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi, had actually infiltrated AQAP, and then returned to Saudi Arabia to provide lots of intelligence on the organization.

So let me remind the fear-mongers of another so-called recidivist who provided key intelligence: Jabir al-Fayfi. At least according to the claims made about the plot he tipped off, the toner cartridge plot could have caused real damage to airplanes or, possibly, the American synagogues to which the toner cartridges had been sent.

Jabir al-Fayfi, who surrendered to Saudi authorities on 16 October, told officials about the plan by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), the Yemen-based terror cell of which he was a member.

US officials said earlier that an alert from Saudi Arabia led to the interception of two explosive devices on planes, hidden in packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, travelling via Britain and Dubai.

And yet two years ago, the fear-mongers would have been pointing to him as proof that no one should ever leave Gitmo.

Mind you, I’m not supporting the use of prison camps to coerce people to spy for us, though clearly this recidivism fear-mongering should at least acknowledge we did that in some cases.

And I’m not saying an assessment of our release decisions and practices should get no review. Not only is it worthwhile to track under what circumstances people engage or re-engage in terrorism after having been held in a prison camp for long periods, but I suspect a review of which detainees our allies asked for and why might raise some interesting questions (in one case I will probably show at more length some time, a Saudi detainee was only slotted for transfer after DOD started claiming he had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba).

But I remind that, at least in Fayfi’s case, a so-called recidivist saved lives because of the context (as described by Hosenball) of this particular recidivist season: the discussion about releasing five members of the Taliban as part of a larger peace deal.

The increase in the apparent recidivism rate, while not large, comes at a delicate time for President Barack Obama, and could further complicate his attempts to negotiate a peace deal with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

As a “confidence building” measure, the Taliban have insisted on the release of five specific Taliban leaders currently held at Guantanamo. The Obama administration has been working on a plan under which the detainees could be transferred to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar but still held in detention.

Lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have indicated they will try to block the release of senior Taliban detainees, and the latest recidivism statistics could add fuel to their efforts.

We have, by all accounts, accomplished the original objective in Afghanistan, to eliminate al Qaeda from the country (though we have inflamed a number of non-Al Qaeda extremist groups in Pakistan along the way).

Meanwhile, members of the Afghan security services continue to engage in friendly fire attacks on Americans. These are senseless deaths, all the more so since we have already accomplished our original objective in Afghanistan.

How many American lives might we save if we send these Taliban members back?

We’ll likely never have that discussion. Instead, the debate will be limited to the mindless recitation of numbers–12, 28, 52, 0, 0, 3–divorced from any discussion of what is best for this country.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

3 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    I wish the DOJ was as concerned about the recidivism rate among banksters when it comes to the foreclosure process, RMBSs, CDOs, CDSs, excessive pay, . . .

  2. rugger9 says:

    That would require a political spine, and there is none at DOJ under Holder. Fitz might come close but he’s not in charge.

    We have no objective reason to stay in Afghanistan if one ignores the oil pipeline that Exxon wants us to bleed for so they don’t have to spend their bonuses.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As you pointed out yesterday, we’ve lost over 450 lives in the past year attempting to kill a single member of AQAP. We’ve spent tens of billions of dollars in the process. That represents a risk-return ratio that would startle even the finance team at the old General Motors.

    Is it possible this misguided president thinks his is a rationale policy? Or is he playing the tireless political game of doing one thing while claiming to do its opposite?

    Next thing you know, Mr. Obama will be campaigning on the changey, hopey, ropey dopey meme again in November. He’s too bright to imagine he can get away with it again, which means that he really thinks that the needs of average Americans no longer matter.

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