In an attempt to reverse the course pioneered by Obama, who was derided by critics for failing to close the prison camp, Trump closed the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure as part of a purging of personnel at the State Department, according to a McClatchy report published Monday.
Now, ex-prisoners who were being tracked by the office are unaccounted for, the report said.
One place US officials are most worried about ex-prisoners going is Syria. A Capitol Hill staffer working for the House Foreign Affairs Committee told McClatchy on the condition of anonymity that Syria was "the worst place for any [former detainee] to turn up." The US maintains a military force of 2,000 personnel in Syria, according to Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson, as cited by McClatchy. Critics say the US military presence there is illegal, since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did not formally extend an invitation to the US.
Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian who had been captured and detained at Gitmo, disappeared from Uruguay last summer. Dhiab has flown from Uruguay to south central Turkey and visited the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, which is controlled by al-Nusra Front, a Syrian diplomat told McClatchy, citing Syrian intelligence sources.
Dhiab is reported to have made trips to Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, and at one juncture was on a flight to South Africa before a US intervention brought him back to Uruguay. Dhiab then tried to fly to Morocco in 2017 with a forged passport, the report says, but was returned to Uruguay instead.
"We worked pretty hard to make sure that he stayed in Uruguay in the Obama administration," said Lee Wolosky, the last US State Department envoy for Gitmo's closure, as quoted by McClatchy. Dhiab was "not only damaged, but he was someone who I thought was dangerous," said Wolosky.
Even though Wolosky left his government job at the end of the Obama administration, he continues to receive phone calls from foreign envoys and other concerned parties because, as he said, "they have no one to talk to in the US government."
The Obama administration had a difficult time keeping track of where ex-Gitmo captives were scattered around the globe. According to recent data from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, approximately 30 percent of former Gitmo prisoners are suspected to have re-joined their militant terrorist organizations after being released.
US intelligence and State Department officials declined to discuss Dhiab's location with McClatchy. A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the department's Counterterrorism Bureau had been assigned to address "any issues stemming from the arrangements made between the Obama administration and foreign partners regarding the resettlement of former Guantanamo Bay detainees."