A Gitmo Detainee Highlights Dilemmas For Obama

The case of a Guantánamo detention-camp detainee named Shaker Aamer, an alleged former associate of Osama bin Laden, has evolved into a perfect example of the dilemmas facing the Obama administration as it tries to shutter the facility: is Aamer truly dangerous or not? And if he leaves Gitmo, where should he go?

Last month, Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith pressed the U.S. government to release Aamer, the last person with U.K. connections held at Gitmo. But according to some U.S. officials and government documents, Aamer is just the kind of detainee whose release could prove unwise. Two years ago, Pentagon official Sandra Hodgkinson told the Associated Press that Aamer, a Saudi with U.K. residency, had shared a London apartment with Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted for his role in the 9/11 attacks. Government documents also suggest Aamer fought jihad in both Bosnia and Afghanistan and served as an "interpreter" for bin Laden. A U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, confirmed that some Pentagon experts still regard Aamer as "an extremely dangerous person." (Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said he would not "speculate on the final disposition of any particular detainee.") But not everyone agrees that Aamer is dangerous. Brent Mickum, his lawyer, insists that claims about his client's Qaeda ties are false. Another U.S. official, who also asked for anonymity, says that some U.S. experts believe Aamer could be safely cut loose.

If that happens, though, where should he go? Both the British and Saudi governments have suggested they'll take him. The Saudis hinted they'd put Aamer in a program to rehabilitate extremists—but reports suggest it often doesn't work. Meanwhile, some U.S. officials worry that U.K. spy agencies are too taxed to keep an eye on him. Indeed, Aamer's lawyer says British authorities have promised he won't be monitored there, a claim that a U.K. official was unable to confirm. A British Embassy spokesman in D.C. said, "Our request for his release was made in light of his status as a former legal resident … and due to our wish to see the closure of Guantánamo Bay."