Last week Mohammed al-Qahtani was released from the Guantanamo Bay naval base and sent back to his native Saudi Arabia, after prosecutors decided not to pursue charges against him. Qahtani is thought to have planned to join the team of terrorists that hijacked flight 93 on September 11, 2001; he was prevented from entering the U.S. by an astute immigration official. Examining the complexities of the legal case against Qahtani, Andrew C. McCarthy concludes that “the decision that he should not, and probably could not, be charged was not lightly made and was amply supported.” McCarthy then turns to broader questions about America’s war on al-Qaeda:
There are still over three dozen jihadists detained at Gitmo. They are still being held at this point only because there are well-founded concerns that they could return to anti-American terrorist activities if released. Half of them are nationals of countries, such as Yemen and Somalia, that are so unstable that it would be irrational to believe repatriated jihadists would be effectively monitored. At least seven remaining detainees will never be charged, and the way the highly erratic military commissions have gone, who knows how many of those who have been charged will ever actually be prosecuted to conclusion? And what happens to any jihadists who end up being acquitted—do we just let them go?
Qahtani’s repatriation returns tough questions to the fore: is the war over? If it is, what are we going to do about detainees who cannot be tried? And if it isn’t, when are we going to address outdated congressional authorizations of the use of military force so that the government’s power to wage war is tailored to the war as it currently exists? We need answers. It’s been over twenty years, and these questions are not going away.