Releasing The Enemy Won’t Help Win Our Struggle Against Islamists

There has been criticism of the military medical staff at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, over the ordered release earlier this month of Ibrahim Idris, a native of Sudan who has been held as an unlawful combatant at Gitmo for over 11 years.

Idris was captured with al Qaeda fighters in 2001. Shortly after arriving at Guantanamo in 2002, he was diagnosed by a U.S. Army psychiatrist as being schizophrenic. Islamist apologists are seizing on this gesture of humanitarian compassion and practical military efficiency by saying Idris should have been medically released soon after his diagnosis.

What the al Qaeda fighter’s apologists and sympathizers don’t realize is that two entities must recommend release of a detainee who may be suffering from a medical condition which may render him less of a threat to repeat his aggression against the United States, one is the medical command (not just at Gitmo, but at the highest levels of the U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD)), and the other is the intelligence command.

Back in 2002, when I was serving at Guantanamo Bay as the ranking AMEDD officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group (JDOG), Joint Task Force (JTF) 160, I was selected to participate in the very first repatriation of a Gitmo detainee, an Uzbek Afghani national named Abdul Razeq.

We nicknamed Razeq “Wild Bill,” due to his bizarre behavior in Camp X-Ray, where he would take bites out of his flip-flops, hang objects from his genitals, and generally cause frequent verbal disruptions. Eventually, the military medical staff diagnosed Razeq as schizophrenic, but, by his own admission to me, during a long break in his release journey to the Leeward airport at Guantanamo, Razeq offered another source for his symptoms.

Razeq admitted to being a heroin addict who had picked up an AK-47 in the fall of 2001 for the Taliban in order to sustain his habit. Some of the bizarre behavior, as it turned out, was due to his violent withdrawal from his heroin addiction.

But this behavior and diagnosis alone were not sufficient to get him a trip back to Afghanistan. He had to be declared not only a low risk of returning to the enemy, but also had to be determined not to be of any further intelligence value. Lastly, even if these two criteria are established, the country from which the detainee originated, or his national country of origin, must be able and willing to take him back.

The Sudan, in Idris’ case, was not a stable enough place in the past for him to be returned to, and still may not be. The Geneva Conventions stipulate that even lawful combatant Prisoners of War (POWs) may be held without charge, “until the end of hostilities.” During WWII the U.S. held over 400,000 German and Italian lawful combatant POWs without one call for extra legal privileges for them, or for medical releases back to their countries of origin. Even now, with a combined 28.9% recidivism rate (reported by the Director of National Intelligence, September 2013 http://www.lawfareblog.com/2013/09/september-2013-guantanamo-recidivism-report-from-dni/) of confirmed and suspected recidivists amongst released Gitmo detainees, it may not be wise to release any of the Gitmo detainees who aren’t facing war crimes charges in the Military Commissions there.

How much more blood on his hands will it take before the domestic threat of Islamist terror hits home for Barack Hussein Obama (Boston, Ft. Hood, 13 defeated terror plots on Manhattan alone)? How many more recidivists (Abu Sufian bin Qumu, alleged mastermind of the Benghazi jihadi attack, and former Gitmo detainee) will it take before he realizes we are in a war with Islamists who want us all dead and not in a game of “Capture the Flag?”

Idris may be harmless now, and I appreciate why he was released, but why take that chance while the Global War on Terror (GWOT) still rages? This fantasy that Islamist terrorists should be treated like common criminals and then arbitrarily released is literally killing us, and feeding the flames of Arab uprisings and civil wars (Egypt, Syria, et. al.).

Giving up the high ground in the GWOT by abandoning Iraq, in the face of overwhelming success of keeping the peace by keeping troops in the countries we liberated and defeated in WWII, was perhaps the President’s most myopic and deadly foreign policy blunder to date, which has grown from ripples of internal Middle East strife, into a tsunami of destabilization in the region today.

Today, we have troops in over 70 countries in our struggle with Islamists who want to kill us, including Germany, Japan and Italy, countries we defeated in WWII and who are now world economic leaders, peaceful, and prosperous because we stayed, economically and militarily. Leaving Afghanistan would seal the fate of that region to the Iranians, Taliban and al Qaeda, just like throwing Iraq to those wolves has done.

When will we learn from our past in a way that teaches every new generation that the only way to truly defeat an enemy is to take away the means and will for them to fight? Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War,” said, “100 victories in 100 battles is not the most skillful, subduing the enemy’s military without battle is the most skillful.” We cannot hope to influence the enemy “without battle” if we are not willing to remain close enough to him to do so. And we certainly can’t hope to do that by releasing more than 600 from our military detention facility, only to meet them again on the battlefield and on our streets. “Until the end of hostilities,” is soon enough for me.

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Apologize for burning Qurans?

(Author’s note: The following is an unedited response of mine to an editorial recently published in my regional newspaper. Here’s a link to the edited version published in Newsday on 3/7/12 http://www.newsday.com/opinion/letters/letters-pulling-out-of-afghanistan-1.3583573 )

Dear Editor,

Your editorial in the Tuesday, February 28 issue of Newsday, titled “Afghanistan: Get out soon; Quran burning, killings of U.S. soldiers underscore hostilities between ‘allies,’” makes it sound as if we don’t have troops in 70 other countries, CIA in over 90 countries, and Diplomatic Security Service in over 200 countries, in our struggle against Islamist extremists.  Iraq and Afghanistan amount to the high ground in this struggle, much like Germany and Japan were the high ground in World War II.  Would you have us leave those places, too?

The fact is there are still many people out there who very much want to kill us.  Our ability to project power and influence through places like Afghanistan help keep us safe here in the U.S., just like staying in Germany helped protect us against the Soviet threat, and a presence in Japan helps us deter a Chinese threat.  Our presence in those two countries allowed them to rebuild, retool, and focus on social and infrastructure priorities, while we subsidized, and still do subsidize their defense.

There is now pressure from NATO to invade Syria to stop the now year-long bloodshed; the death toll of innocent victims approaches nearly twice that of all the American deaths associated with ten years of battle in Iraq.  Since Barack Hussein Obama insisted on an untimely withdrawal from neighboring Iraq to please a hungry election year electorate, we now have no adjacent physical military presence with which to directly influence the ongoing tragedy there, or with Iran.  Our troops in Afghanistan dwindling and scheduled for full withdrawal, have no hope of influencing actions in Iran, which threaten to worsen, and invites an Israeli pre-emptive strike.

As for the desecrated Quran burnings, you know, but did not put in your editorial, that detainees had written in the books, which is strictly forbidden in Muslim teachings and against camp rules.  Although it is permissible to burn a damaged Quran, it is not preferable, and would require “rubbing out” references to Allah, His Angels and His Messengers before burning.  The Qurans had been deemed classified material because of the detainee writings in them, and were probably therefore scheduled to be destroyed along with other classified documents.

While serving at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002, I received briefings on the Muslim faith, which included cursory information on the proper handling of the Quran, but they did not include how to properly dispose of one.  Such details would be left for the U.S. Navy Muslim Chaplain on duty there.  I doubt the soldiers tasked with disposing of the books had any clue what they were doing would upset anyone.

I agree that we should apologize for inadvertently desecrating the Quran, precisely when all Taliban and al Qaeda apologize for every single American and other innocent human being they have killed, from Marine CPL Stephen Crowley, a Long Island native, and U.S. Embassy Guard in Islamabad, Pakistan, the first American casualty in the Global War on Terror, killed on November 21, 1979, to the victims of 9/11/01, whose numbers keep growing from the hazards of the response and clean-up at the World Trade Center, to Daniel Pearl’s video taped beheading, to the execution of the two U.S. Army officers you mention in your editorial.  When they do that, we should apologize for the books, not before.

The reality is that al Qaeda and the Taliban and their ilk will never apologize for anything they do.  As the Barbary Pirates before them, they are set on death and destruction in order to influence weaker forces into their realm of influence.  The murderous Islamist extremist protestors in this case have seized the President’s premature and unwarranted apology as a weakness, and have exploited it with the help of a traitorous media.  In what sane world to we excuse the murder of innocent people because of the incineration of paper?  Sincere religious followers understand that the sins of an individual are atoned between that person and their God, not avenged through a murderous crowd or individual.

NOTE: I am a three times mobilized retired U.S. Army Reserve Major, who served in Cuba and Iraq, and am the author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior.”

What’s it like to take care of people who want to kill you?

“Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior”

“Hard as it is to believe, one of the most significant stories of the post-9/11 age is also one of the least known, life at Gitmo, the detention facility for many of the world’s worst terrorists. Few individuals are more qualified to tell this story than Montgomery Granger, a citizen soldier, family man, dedicated educator, and Army Reserve medical officer involved in one of the most intriguing military missions of our time. Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay is about that historic experience, and it relates not only what it was like for Granger to live and work at Gitmo, but about the sacrifices made by him and his fellow Reservists serving around the world.”

Andrew Carroll, editor of the New York Times bestsellers War Letters and Behind the Lines

Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay, or “Gitmo: The Real Story,” is a “good history of medical, security, and intelligence aspects of Gitmo; also, it will be valuable for anyone assigned to a Gitmo-like facility.”

Jason Wetzel, Field Historian, Office of Army Reserve History

Then U.S. Army Reserve Captain Montgomery J. Granger found himself the ranking Army Medical Department officer wiht the Joint Detainee Operations Group (JDOG) on a joint mission like no other before it; taking care of terrorists and murderers just months after the horrors of September 11, 2001. Granger and his fellow Reservists end up running the JDOG at Guantanamo Bay’s infamous Camp X-Ray. In this moving memoir, Granger writes about his feelings of guilt over leaving his two-day-old son, Theodore, his family and job back home.  While in Guantanamo, he faces myriad torturous emotions and self-doubt, at once hating the inmates he is nonetheless duty bound to care for and protect. Through long distance love, and much heartache, Granger finds a way to keep his sanity and dignity. Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay is his story.

Montgomery J. Granger is a three-time mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Major (Ret.) who resides in Long Island, New York, with his wife and five children. Granger is the author of “Theodore,” a personal narrative published in the 2006 Random House wartime anthology, “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front in the words of U.S. Troops and their Families.”