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Released to Kill By: Mark Landsbaum
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Imagine capturing enemy combatants during World War II, then returning them to their homelands while the war continued to rage, simply because they promised not to fight any more.

Unlikely? Maybe during World War II -- but thanks to the modern Left, this is exactly what we're doing in the War on Terror.


More than 200 terrorist suspects held in the U.S. Navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been released from custody after signing pledges renouncing violence and promising not to bear arms against U.S. forces or its allies.


Not surprisingly, U.S. military officials now concede that at least 10 of those released are believed to have broken their promises and resumed terrorist activity.


Perhaps foremost among the released prisoners is Abdullah Mehsud, 28, who after 25 months in custody at Guantanamo has used his new freedom to mastermind the kidnapping on October 9 of two Chinese involved in the building of Pakistan’s Gomal Zam Dam project. One of the Chinese hostages was killed during a Pakistani rescue attempt this week. The kidnapping was Mehsud’s response to ground, helicopter and artillery offensives that failed to force the tribes to hand over al-Qaeda fugitives.


Another three prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay custody are believed to have been killed after also resuming terrorist activities. One released detainee killed a judge leaving an Afghanistan mosque.


“It’s a difficult balance to achieve between not wanting to hold individuals longer than is necessary and the risk to our forces if the individual returns to the fight,” explained Air Force Major Michael Shavers, quoted by the Washington Times.


There has been pressure on the U.S. military to prevent holding prisoners “longer than is necessary” from the so-called Center for Constitutional Rights, whose president Michael Ratner deems U.S. military tribunals that try suspected terrorists to be “kangaroo courts,” lacking credibility in the Muslim world. Other “human rights” groups also have criticized the U.S. Defense Department for holding prisoners at the naval base, some for more than two years while only a few have been charged. Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry months ago joined in the criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of prisoners, claiming, “They dismiss the Geneva Convention starting in Afghanistan and Guantanamo….”


The obvious downside to releasing prisoners during war is that they potentially replenish the enemy’s forces. But there are also great propaganda and morale gains for the enemy when prisoners like Mehsud are freed.


Mehsud, who now holds the notorious distinction of being Pakistan’s most wanted man, is described in a report in the London Independent as a “growing legend” among rebel Pakistanis. The fugitive terrorist, who is suspected to have aligned with al-Qaeda since his release, was a minor player in 1996 when he lost a leg storming Kabul with the Taliban. But now the mastermind of the Chinese kidnapping has achieved a high-profile notoriety while believed to be holed up in the South Waziristan tribal region, where tribesmen and foreign fighters ferociously oppose the Pakistani army because, some believe, Osama bin Laden may be in hiding there.


While in custody, Mehsud’s only audience was other prisoners. Now his high profile results in his words being repeated in press reports worldwide, giving him a prominent platform to criticize U.S. policies and to proclaim that the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is a provocation that must be avenged by Muslims.


Not only are freed prisoners like Mehsud able now to resume terrorist activities against U.S. forces, but they also can pose disproportionate problems for U.S. allies. Pakistanis, for instance, are mobilized with a top priority for finding, capturing or killing Mehsud, whose new status as a rebel hero inflames conditions in the region.


The Daily News in Islamabad, Pakistan, described Mehsud as having become “a hero to anti-U.S. fighters active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”


“We must hunt Mehsud down. The man has got too big for his shoes,” an anomymous Pakistani security official was quoted saying. Mehsud and others like him aid a new generation of guerrillas organizing and rallying supporters in remote regions beyond the reach of Pakistani authorities.


About 550 terror suspects remain at the Cuban prison in U.S. custody, but further releases may occur if the detainees are no longer deemed to be a threat, or no longer have intelligence value, or are not candidates for trial by military commission, according to Major Shavers. So far, the Pentagon says more than 150 have been released outright. Another 56 were transferred to the control of other governments, including 29 to Pakistan.


The Associated Press reported that Maulvi Abdel Ghaffer, a senior Taliban commander in northern Afghanistan before his 2001 capture, was released to Afghanistan after eight months at Guantanamo. Afghan leaders believe Ghaffer was heading Taliban forces in the Uruzgan province when he was killed during a raid.


Other former prisoners now living in Denmark and Sweden have indicated publicly they wanted to return to fighting. Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, who was released to return to Denmark in February, later backed off his comments about going to Chechnya to fight Russians, and promised once again to honor his original promise not to take up arms. Danish authorities reportedly are keeping tabs on him. Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali, released in July after two years at Guantanamo, is being monitored by Swedish intelligence agents, who reportedly do not consider him a threat.


Meanwhile, a military source told Pakistan’s Daily Times, “We are closing in on Abdullah, and his days are numbered.”


Latest reports are that Pakistani security forces have surrounded a village in South Waziristan where Mehsud and his men are believed to be hiding. “We are optimistic that Abdullah Mehsud would be captured soon,” a government spokesman said.


One might ask whether Mehsud’s re-capture or death will occur before another prisoner is released from Guantanamo to take his place in the Pakistan mountains.


The Washington Post reports that a federal judge ruled last week that terror suspects held in Cuba must be allowed to meet with lawyers, and their conversations cannot be monitored by the government. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly reportedly rebuked the Bush administration for “attempts to erode this bedrock principle” of attorney-client privacy. Previously, the Supreme Court had ruled that foreign-born detainees in the Navy prison camp at Guantanamo Bay could challenge their captivity in American courts.


The Defense Department said this ruling means the chance that former Guantanamo Bay prisoners might return to terrorism is unlikely to hinder the release of more prisoners.


“I don't think it will make it more difficult to release people in the future," said Pentagon spokesman Shavers, quoted by the Washington Post. “We will continue to apply stringent scrutiny of the cases of these individuals.”


Another Pentagon spokesman offered, “[W]e can’t be 100 percent sure they will not return to the fight.”


As Major Shavers noted, “What people need to understand is that a number of these detainees are highly skilled in concealing the truth."


Significantly, the Israeli daily Haaretz last week reported of the existence of a Jordanian “ghost jail” the CIA allegedly is using to hold at least 11 senior al-Qaeda leaders, beyond the reach of the U.S. courts -- and perhaps beyond the policy of releasing terror suspects who promise not to fight again.


“Their detention outside the U.S. enables CIA interrogators to apply interrogation methods that are banned by U.S. law, and to do so in a country where co-operation with the U.S. is particularly close, thereby reducing the danger of leaks,” wrote Yossi Melman, a leading authority on intelligence. There was no immediate comment from officials in Jordan, and the U.S. embassy in Jordan denied the report.


The fact is terrorists are running free in Afghanistan and potentially more around the world because the Legal Left placed their “inalienable rights” above the safety of Americans. Institutions like the Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild do this out of a hatred of this country and all that she stands for -- and in this instance, they are literally “softening us up for the kill.”

Mark Landsbaum is a freelance writer, author and former award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter in Diamond Bar, California.

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