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Second chances for jihadists must stop

Michael D. Helm

By Michael D. Helm

Most Americans do not know who Ali al-Marri is and it is my sincere hope that they never find out because of another horrendous attack. Nonetheless, it is extremely alarming that not only has our government released the convicted al-Qaeda operative from U.S. custody to Qatar, but that it has also gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Picked up for a routine traffic violation just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, al-Marri ominously arrived in the United States on Sept. 10, 2001. After police discovered he was already on a federal watch list, he was arrested and charged with providing material support or resources to al Qaeda. In fact, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed described al-Marri as “the perfect sleeper agent because he has studied in the United States, had no criminal record, and had a family with whom he could travel.”

First held as an enemy combatant, a U.S. court later ruled that al-Marri was entitled to a federal hearing. In a 2009 plea agreement, he pled guilty in exchange for a 15-year prison sentence and was held in the United States. Released earlier this month to his native country of Qatar, he can expect plenty of company in that part of the world as President Obama has called on Congress to lift remaining restrictions on detainee transfers so he can close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

To be fair, the release of dangerous detainees is not new and hundreds were released during the Bush administration. But at a time when ISIS is committing the most gruesome atrocities imaginable, it is the precise opposite of what we should be doing.

In 2006, a delegation from The American Legion visited the detention facility at Guantanamo. Tom Bock, who was the organization’s national commander at the time, reported a very different environment than the description offered by many detainee lawyers and agenda-driven human rights organizations.

“The United States may be the only country whose captured enemy combatants gain weight during their detention,” Bock said at the time, while taking note of the excellent prison cuisine. “The members of Joint Task Force Guantanamo are absolute professionals. One guard had feces thrown on him just before we arrived. He calmly showered and changed his uniform. The abuse at Guantanamo is coming from the detainees, not our military.”

Bock added that the detainee medical clinic provided excellent health care, far superior to what most of the detainees were able to receive in their home countries prior to their capture.

According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 30 percent of released Guantanamo detainees have engaged in further terrorist activities.

One such man was Abdallah al-Ajmi. Captured in Pakistan in December 2001, al-Ajmi was a Taliban fighter and self-proclaimed Jihadist. He was transferred to Guantanamo and remained there until his release in 2005. While at Gitmo, he told a military review board that he wanted to kill as many Americans as possible. Nonetheless, despite a history of violence at Gitmo, he was returned to his native country Kuwait. According to the Washington Post, on March 23, 2008 al-Ajmi drove a pick-up truck full of explosives through an Iraqi military base entrance point in Mosul. The blast killed 13 Iraqi soldiers and wounded 42 civilians.

As the nation’s largest organization of wartime veterans, The American Legion believes it has a solemn responsibility to do what it can to keep our country safe. We do not practice partisan politics, but we do believe in speaking truth to power, regardless of the consequences.

Mr. President, freeing terrorists and closing Guantanamo is a terrible idea.

Michael D. Helm is the national commander of the 2.4 million member American Legion, http://www.legion.org.


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