Obama Terror Advisor Bruce Riedel 'Guantanamo Was a Very Costly Mistake'

In a SPIEGEL interview, al-Qaida expert and Obama adviser Bruce Riedel discusses the fate of the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, how dangerous they really are, what Europe could do to help.

SPIEGEL: During his campaign, President-elect Obama announced several times that he will close the US detention center for terror suspects in Guantanamo. Which of the inmates still there will be the most difficult cases?

Bruce Riedel: The Yemenis. They are the largest group among the remaining detainees. According to the US military, which is holding them, there are now 248 prisoners: 27 of them are al-Qaida leadership cadre; 99 are lower level al-Qaida operatives. A big chunk of those are Yemenis. They cannot go back to Yemen because Yemen can't be trusted to keep dangerous prisoners from rejoining the global jihad. What is left in Guantanamo is the hard core; the easy cases are long gone. Another difficult problem are the Chinese. They cannot go home because China cannot be trusted when it comes to human rights and abuse.

SPIEGEL: A political discussion has started in Europe about accepting ex-Guantanamo prisoners. Germany and Portugal have already indicated  that they might be willing to do so. How important would such support be to the United States?

Riedel: Even if European nations, such as Portugal or Germany, would only take a small number -- maybe half a dozen -- it would still be an important support. The United States needs all the help it can get to clean up the mess left by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: Are you thinking of any particular group that Europe could accept?

Riedel: The Chinese prisoners would be particularly suitable. They cannot go back to China, and they are not as serious a threat as others -- for example, the Yemenis.

SPIEGEL: Do you really consider the Chinese inmates at all dangerous?

Riedel: No matter how dangerous these people were when they came to Guantanamo, after six or seven years in prison, they have a very serious motive for revenge.

SPIEGEL: What would countries willing to accept former prisoners have to deal with?

Riedel: They would have to keep a very close eye on the former prisoners for some time; they have to be under surveillance. It would be a financial burden, and the former inmates may file lawsuits in Germany seeking some kind of redress for perceived injustices, which German courts would probably hear. Also, (the former inmates would) need financial support, and it's hard to imagine their finding employment.

SPIEGEL: Will the United States take some prisoners?

Riedel: That is also a very difficult question. Once they are in the American prison system, they could seek all kinds of legal help that wasn't available in Guantanamo. The state government receiving the prisoner would probably be less than enthusiastic about it. It is a very difficult business finding a place for those people. In the end, even the Bush administration thought along those lines. But we have some very dangerous people here, made more dangerous by six years in prison. We cannot simply let them go, but it gets more and more difficult to legally hold them. Guantanamo was a very costly mistake.

interview conducted by Cordula Meyer
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