Between July and January, nine former inmates of the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, returned to the battlefield to carry out terror attacks or join insurgencies around the world, according to a new report by the U.S. intelligence community.
The report, an assessment of recidivism rates at the prison that was first reported by Vice, presents a macro view of the rate at which detainees at the controversial detention facility have returned to battle after their release. In total, 100 of the 603 individuals released from Guantánamo are confirmed to have once more picked up arms to engage in either insurgent or terrorist activity, amounting to a recidivism rate of 17.9 percent. Of those 100, 17 are dead, 27 are in custody, and 56 remain free. Another 74 individuals are suspected but not confirmed to have returned to the fight.
The new study was compiled by the Director of National Intelligence, in collaboration with the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. It defines “terrorist” or “insurgent” activity as “planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations, etc.”
Its release comes amid a continuing debate about whether to close the prison. Large segments of the American population oppose doing so, even though it’s continued operation has been used as a recruitment tool by terrorist organizations and widely condemned by U.S. allies and human rights group alike. The prospect that a released prisoner might once more pick up arms against the United States now hangs over the effort to shut the facility.
Last month, U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed a former Guantánamo detainee and former Taliban commander who had been operating as a war lord in southern Afghanistan and had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The militant, Mullah Abdul Rauf, was released from Guantánamo in 2007.
The nine individuals who most recently returned to the battlefield were all released during the George W. Bush administration, and in recent years the U.S. government has had more success in dissuading those released from the prison to not pick up arms once more. During the Bush administration, Guantánamo had a recidivism rate of 20.7 percent, with 110 of 532 individuals released returning to battle. During the Obama administration, six individuals, of 115 released, have returned to battle, for a recidivism rate of 5.2 percent.
Even as the Obama administration has pushed down the recidivism rate, Wednesday’s report serves as a vivid reminder of its failure to shut the prison. President Barack Obama came to office promising to shutter the facility, and two days after taking office, he signed a series of executive orders aimed at doing just that.
But six years after Obama took office, the prison remains open. His effort to close Guantánamo was dealt a fatal blow by Congress in 2010, when the body severely restricted the transfer of prisoners held there to the United States. But critics of the White House also argue that the administration has done little to seek a compromise with Congress and find a long-term solution for dealing with the prisoners that remain on the island prison.
The Obama administration has released far fewer prisoners from Guantánamo, and critics of the White House argue that the administration has done a poor, slow job implementing the president’s guidelines for reviewing the cases of those considered for release. The administration’s efforts to lower the number of prisoners at Guantánamo has focused on finding countries to which they can be transferred. In January, five detainees were sent to Oman and Estonia. As of March 2, there were 122 inmates at Guantánamo, according to Human Rights First, an advocacy group.
New evidence of former detainees returning to the battlefield — regardless of how few and which president released them — will make the flailing Obama effort even harder.
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