A Times Turnaround? Freed Gitmo Prisoner Linked to Terror Makes Front Page

Issue that were starkly black and white during the Bush administration, like the necessity of closing down Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have suddenly become nuanced now that Obama is in the White House.

What a difference a president makes: Issues that were starkly black and white during the Bush administration, like the necessity of closing down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have become abruptly more nuanced now that Barack Obama is in the White House. All of a sudden there are "potential complications" to shutting down Guantanamo, an action the Times' editorial page has pushed vociferously, including a bombastic 1,400-word editorial on Sunday (before Obama was president).

A Friday story, "Obama Reverses Key Bush Policy, but Questions on Detainees Remain," called the situation "complex."

President Obama reversed the most disputed counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration on Thursday, declaring that "our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground" in the fight against Al Qaeda. But Mr. Obama postponed for months decisions on complex questions the United States has been grappling with since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

But Friday's front-page story by Robert Worth was truly newsworthy, throwing a wrench into the liberal conventional wisdom about the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay - "Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes A Qaeda Chief - Linked to Yemen Blast After Guantanamo."

The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year. The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

That's quite an about-face from what Times reporter William Glaberson wrote just a week ago on January 15, clearly hostile to the idea that releasing prisoners from Gitmo would have consequences:

In the same vein, the Pentagon this week distributed its latest tally of released detainees it classifies as having "returned to the fight" against Americans. A spokesman put the number at 61, but did not provide any way of authenticating that number, and the tally itself has sometimes been viewed as little more than public relations for the Guantánamo center.

Perhaps Glaberson will count the tale of Said Ali al-Shihri as sufficient "authentication."