By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 23, 2009 - As the Defense Department prepares plans to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, defense officials acknowledge the possibility that released detainees could return to the battlefield. "It's something that we're cognizant of. It's obviously something that we try to assess at the time of transfer when we are looking at these individuals," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters today.
President Barack Obama yesterday signed an executive order that directs the closure of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo within a year.
The detention center has housed nearly 800 suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places since the start of the global war on terrorism that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. About 250 detainees are being held at Guantanamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Of the more than 500 detainees who have been transferred from Defense Department custody, 18 allegedly have resumed terrorist activities and another 43 former detainees are suspected of having resumed their former lives, Whitman said.
Whitman addressed a query from a reporter citing news reports that a former Guantanamo detainee had apparently become an associate leader for al-Qaida in Yemen.
Guantanamo inmates' cases are reviewed annually, Whitman said, to ascertain whether or not they qualify for release. However, he said, there's no guarantee released individuals won't return to terrorism.
"You can't have absolute certainly," Whitman acknowledged.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday acknowledged there are challenges inherent with shuttering the center.
"Clearly, the challenge that faces us, and that I've acknowledged before, is figuring out how do we close Guantanamo and at the same time safeguard the security of the American people," he said.
There "are answers to those questions," Gates said, noting there is "a lot of work to do."