By Ben Barrack
Closing the Gitmo detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has always been a top priority for Barack Obama. Within hours of his first inauguration, he signed an Executive Order in an attempt to close it within one year. Barely more than one year prior to signing that order, Abu Sufian bin Qumu was “transferred” from Gitmo and returned to Derna (Darnah), Libya.
Nearly 500 days after the attack on Benghazi on 9/11/12 that ended with the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the U.S. State Department formally acknowledged that bin Qumu was a player in the attack and that he was the leader of Ansar Al-Sharia in Derna.
It’s failure to do so until now has been intentionally obstructionist; there is no other explanation. Consider a Fox News report published just days after the Benghazi attack – and five days before Obama again pointed to the anti-Muhammad video as being responsible, during a speech at the United Nations. The report identified bin Qumu as a suspect then:
Sufyan Ben Qumu is thought to have been involved and even may have led the attack, Fox News’ intelligence sources said. Qumu, a Libyan, was released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2007 and transferred into Libyan custody on the condition he be kept in jail. He was released by the Qaddafi regime as part of its reconciliation effort with Islamists in 2008.
One day after that report, Mother Jones writer Adam Serwer willingly provided his platform to the administration so that it could lie in an attempt to discredit the Fox News story:
…a US national security official tells Mother Jones that “that (Fox) report is wrong, there’s no intelligence suggesting that he (bin Qumu) was leading the attack on the consulate that evening.” The official insisted there was no evidence that Qumu “directed, coordinated, or planned” the attack.
Speaking of writers interested in protecting the Obama administration, have a look at how New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief David Kirkpatrick portrayed bin Qumu in his now infamous, exhaustive and thoroughly discredited piece last month:
The C.I.A. kept its closest watch on people who had known ties to terrorist networks abroad, especially those connected to Al Qaeda. Intelligence briefings for diplomats often mentioned Sufian bin Qumu, a former driver for a company run by Bin Laden…
…But neither Mr. Qumu nor anyone else in Derna appears to have played a significant role in the attack on the American Mission, officials briefed on the investigation and the intelligence said.
That single assertion by Kirkpatrick was blown up by a State Department press release about two weeks later, on January 10th. Here is an excerpt from the State Department’s release:
…the Department of State has also designated Ahmed Abu Khattalah, Sufian bin Qumu, and Seifallah Ben Hassine… as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under E.O. 13224. Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah (has) been involved in terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations, and attempted assassinations of security officials and political actors in eastern Libya, and the September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya.
Seemingly in a bit of a box, the Obama administration pre-qualified the designation by insisting there is no evidence that Ansar Al-Sharia in Derna and Benghazi were “official affiliates” of al-Qaeda, despite the fact that bin Qumu is up to his neck in al-Qaeda.
Let’s go back to his “transfer” out of Gitmo.
In 2006, the wheels were set in motion to release bin Qumu from Gitmo. A 3-page unclassified Department of Defense document that summarized the conditions for bin Qumu’s transfer, there are no names of individuals who made up the Administrative Review Board (ARB) responsible for such recommendations. When there are no names, accountability is absent. When accountability is absent, bad decisions are made. One read of this document demonstrates precisely why no one wanted his / her name on it.
It opens thusly:
1. An Administrative Review Board will be convened to review your (bin Qumu’s) case to determine if your continued detention is necessary. 2. The Administrative Review Board will conduct a comprehensive review of all reasonably available and relevant information regarding your case.
After chronicling all of bin Qumu’s very tangible connections to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden as well as past convictions for drug trafficking and multiple incarcerations for attempted rape, the ARB stated the following toward the end of the document:
4. The following primary factors favor release or transfer:
a. The detainee denied having any knowledge of terrorist activity and insisted that he only worked for al Wafa as a means to feed his family. b. The detainee insists that he never defied weapons, never fought, never went to a guest house and was never around weapons in Afghanistan.
That’s it? Despite overwhelming evidence, the best reasons the ARB could come up with to ‘release or transfer’ bin Qumu was his word, which naturally contradicted that evidence.
Is it any wonder why no one’s name is on that document? Since there is not, there are two names that are on it by both implication and default – George W. Bush and then Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.
When talking about tangled webs, there is never one sole reason for inexplicable behavior. There are several and many are often not even known by the primary players. The role of the Bush administration in bin Qumu’s ‘transfer’ back to Libya may provide at least some anecdotal evidence for why elected Republicans almost appear to be as interested in seeing Benghazi go away as the Obama administration is.
Despite cacophonous calls for a House Select Committee to get to the truth about what happened in Benghazi, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has resisted. In a January 6th letter to Boehner, signed by family members of those murdered, the Speaker was eviscerated for a failure of leadership. Much of the anger directed at Republicans like Boehner, from the conservative right, involves an inability to understand why said Republicans do not fight for the truth.
As for why terrorists like bin Qumu would be released under Bush, an article by J.D. Gordon, a retired Navy Commander, who served as a Pentagon spokesman at the time of bin Qumu’s release, may provide some answers. In his Fox News piece, Gordon points to relentless political pressure from far left-wing groups like Amnesty International and Center for Constitutional Rights as the primary culprits.
During his 2010 book tour, Bush’s closest adviser Karl Rove many times made the point that if he had one regret, it was not responding to left-wing attacks more forcefully, via Today:
“When you have five major Democrats pick up the same line in two days which they know is incorrect, it is a political attack aimed at the heart of the administration, and we should have responded stronger than we did,” Rove said.
That mentality should extend to dealing with left-wing groups that seek the release of al-Qaeda prisoners who would later be implicated in the murder of four Americans, one an Ambassador.
As for why the Obama administration would be so reluctant to acknowledge bin Qumu as a suspect in the Benghazi attack for over a year, while pointing to an anti-Muhammad video, closing Gitmo completely is still one of Obama’s goals. In fact, according to the Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman, it’s moved to the front burner again. Identifying bin Qumu as a former Gitmo detainee who has American blood on his hands in Benghazi tends to make the argument for closure a bit more difficult, politically.
Republicans would do well to exploit this reality or face the prospect of more American deaths for not doing so.
Again, the bin Qumu case may be anecdotal but perhaps where there is bin Qumu smoke, there’s a much larger fire that both political parties would rather not reveal.
Coming clean is a first step.