Senators Press Pompeo over Monitoring Ex-Gitmo Detainees, Fate of Two Libyans Deported by Senegal

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to the Senate later today to testify before the Foreign Relations Committee, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have sent him a sharp-toned letter about the Trump-era State Department’s seeming neglect of its responsibility to monitor former Guantanamo detainees — and expressing “profound concern” about two who disappeared after they were deported to Libya by Senegal this spring.

The senators — including Jack Reed and Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrats on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, and James Risch and Marco Rubio, both Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee — blasted the fact that the State Department (under Mr. Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson) shuttered the Office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure without bothering to reassign its former job of monitoring former detainees and managing any problems that might arise. Since the Trump administration failed to give that responsibility to another high-level, centralized office or bureau, it devolved by default to the long list of things individual embassies track, i.e. became an after-thought:

We are concerned the State Department does not have someone tasked with, and responsible for, oversight of detainees who have been transferred out of Guantanamo. While we are familiar with the administration’s change in policy with regard to Guantanamo’s closure, we believe oversight of former Guantanamo detainees remains a lasting issue. We urge you to immediately assign responsibility for the oversight of former Guantanamo detainees to an existing Bureau, such as Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, and dedicate an individual within that office to manage this issue.

The letter came as unconfirmed reports have surfaced that Jihad Diyab, a Syrian former detainee who was resettled in Uruguay in 2014 and has slipped out of that country several times while trying to get back to the Middle East, may have used a false identity to go from South America to Morocco and then Turkey, which may have deported him to Syria. Diyab had gained prominence as a hard-core hunger striker at Guantanamo, where he was stranded for years after being recommended for transfer because of instability in his home country. Once resettled in Uruguay, however, he wanted to leave, and went to other countries several times only to be deported back. In the Obama era, the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure had worked with authorities in Uruguay to manage his messy situation.

But the senators’ letter focused not on Diyab’s emerging case, but on another problem that arose last spring: the case of Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby and Awad Khalifa, two Libyan ex-detainees who were resettled in Senegal. In April, the Senegalese government deported them to Libya; the senators’ letter noted that it would have been unlawful for the United States to have repatriated them directly to Libya, a provision that Congress had enacted to “prevent these individuals from being transferred to unstable countries where they could be assimilated into terrorist organizations, tortured, or killed.”

After their transfer, they immediately disappeared, apparently into the hands of a militia that controls the airport at Tripoli, and have not been heard from  by their family or lawyers since. The senators criticized the government of Senegal for the deportation, which they portrayed as a violation of its international obligations. The letter also noted that the two men had been living peacefully in Dakar and one was engaged to a Senegalese woman, implying that greater diplomatic efforts by the United States might have persuaded the Senegalese government to let them stay. And it asked the State Department to work with Libyans to offer to resettle them in other countries or permit human rights groups visit them, although they also observed that “it is unclear whether they are still alive or in good health.”

Here is the letter to Pompeo: