White House Pressures Hagel to Speed Up Release of Terrorist Detainees

White House Pressures Hagel to Speed Up Release of Terrorist Detainees

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice is pressuring Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to “step up his pace” in releasing what the White House calls “low level” detainees at the U.S. Naval facility that houses suspected terrorist detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The New York Times reports that Rice herself is under pressure from senior White House officials who want her to speed up the release of terrorist detainees. 

The only White House officials senior to the National Security Adviser are the secretary of sate, the vice president, and, of course, President Obama himself. Since it is widely accepted in political circles that Obama insists on making high-level decisions on national security matters himself, the implication is that it is President Obama himself who is insisting upon the early release of Gitmo detainees.

But the White House’s efforts to fast track the release of terrorist detainees, thought by many to continue to pose grave risks to U.S. security, is running into headwinds from a resistant secretary of defense, who must sign off on any such transfers. Speaking to reporters traveling with him on a trip to Alaska late Wednesday, Secretary Hagel was unusually direct in expressing his open opposition to White House pressure. “My name is going on that document. That’s a big responsibility,” said Hagel. He added, “I am taking my time. I owe that to the American people, to ensure that any decision I make is, in my mind, responsible.” 

Hagel said the Pentagon will–for as long as necessary–continue its deliberative process that started several months ago after an asylum offer aggressively solicited by the United States was finally received from Uruguay, despite political pressure from the White House.

Hagel’s pushback against White House pressure came just days after Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Adviser, delivered an unusually blunt directive to Hagel, demanding that the Pentagon “provide an update on progress on detainee transfers every two weeks until further notice.” 

The full details of the Rice memorandum have not been released, but the parts now circulating were leaked by an unnamed White House or Pentagon “official” to The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage.

Due to an act of Congress stripping the Obama White House of authority to order such releases on its own, no detainees currently held at the United States military prison located inside the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay can be either released or transferred to another facility inside the United States or elsewhere without the express written approval of the secretary of defense. This would come in the form of a statement asserting that such a release is in the national security interests of the United States, and that the U.S. has taken steps to “substantially mitigate” the risk that any released terrorist detainees might pose to the U.S. or its allies by resuming terrorist activities.

The most recent official analysis of terrorists previously released from Guantánamo Bay, a 2010 report prepared by the office of the Director of National Intelligence, revealed that of the 598 terrorist detainees then released from the prison facility, at least 150 were either “confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities.” That represents a recidivism rate of roughly 25%. 

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