The State Department has admitted that an associate of Osama bin Laden and former Guantanamo Bay detainee played a role in the Benghazi terrorist attack, a concession that debunks not only the claim that a YouTube video sparked the assault, but also the idea that the detention center should be closed, according to a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
"It's not a straight line," Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., told the Washington Examiner, describing the connection between al Qaeda and the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. The terrorists killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
On Friday, the State Department identified the militants who carried out the Benghazi attack, designating various groups that go by the name Ansar al Sharia as foreign terrorist organizations for their role in the attack. Abu Sufian bin Qumu, who leads one of those groups, was named a "specially designated global terrorist," along with Ahmed Abu Khattalah, named in a widely-read New York Times story as "a central figure in the attack."
Bin Qumu was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 even though he was an "associate" of bin Laden's. Pompeo said that the State Department's fingering of bin Qumu and the Ansar al-Sharia groups demonstrates, among other things, that the Times was wrong to maintain that there is "no evidence that al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault."
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday that "none of these Ansar al-Sharia organizations are official affiliates — affiliates, rather, of core al Qaeda under Ayman al-Zawahiri."
But Pompeo said bin Qumu's past association with bin Laden, and ideological alignment with the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, is more important than whether bin Laden's successor planned the Benghazi assault.
"I don't want to be at war with Islamists any more than the next person, but the unfortunate news is they continue to be at war with us," he said.
Pompeo also cited bin Qumu as proof that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should remain open. "You have a group that wants to close down a facility that's detaining folks that want to kill us and trying to tell us at the same time that the threat is just some super-criminals or violent extremists," he said of President Obama and others who want to close the prison where "high-value" captives are held. "We're going to close this thing without any rational thought about what the implications of that are."
Pompeo said Obama should release prisoners who are not regarded as a threat to the United States. For instance, he approved of the release of Uighurs (an ethnic minority within China) captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo. Though Islamist militants, they were determined not to pose a threat to the United States.
"If we've concluded for whatever reason that this person poses no threat, I have no problem releasing them," Pompeo said, adding that the intelligence community and military tribunals should make that determination.
Obama's campaign promise to close Guantanamo "puts the release cart before the safety horse," Pompeo said, because it means terrorists are brought to the United States and given defense attorneys, rather than being interrogated by the intelligence community.
"The most important thing that you can do when you capture someone is find out what they know," he said. "The information we [might] glean becomes much more difficult to chase down, and that's unfortunate when you pull someone that you know has long history with al Qaeda."