By William Fisher
A prominent human rights organization and public interest law firm that has defended numerous Guantanamo Bay detainees charged Thursday that a recent government report on a high rate of recidivism among former GITMO inmates is loaded with “vague and unsubstantiated claims and misinformation.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement that the report to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was “the latest in a line of reports that have been repeatedly discredited for using dubious classifications to produce unreliable statistics.”
CCR said that the DNI’s report contains “unsubstantiated statistics on what it persists in calling recidivism or re-engagement of former detainees.”
In so doing, CCR added, the administration is “shooting itself in the foot, through political miscalculation and propaganda, in its efforts to close the prison.”
The report said that 150 detainees, or 25 per cent of those released, are confirmed or believed to have rejoined the fight. CCR questioned those figures and called on the DNI to provide more detailed information.
In the last two days, Congress has voted to block the use of any funds to pay for transporting Guantanamo detainees to mainland U.S. This effectively forecloses the possibility of Guantanamo detainees being tried in civilian courts. Most members of Congress believe GITMO trials should be before military tribunals.
CCR criticized the vague and unsubstantiated claims and misinformation in the National Intelligence Director’s release of figures regarding the supposed "recidivism" of former Guantanamo detainees.
“The director's summary report also persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place,” the CCR said, adding:
“If the underlying basis for most detentions was suspect, the claims of re-engagement are more so and only serve to whitewash the original situation.”
The group noted that Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior State Department official who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the Bush administration, recently stated in a federal court declaration in support of a former detainee's claims of wrongful detention that “the Bush administration knew early on that the majority of the men at Guantanamo were wrongfully detained, but did not release them because of political concerns that doing so could harm the government’s push for war.”
CCR said the latest DNI report “only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”
Leili Kashani, a CCR attorney, told IPS, “The problem with the latest government recidivism report, as with the ones that have preceded it, is that it provides no substance that can be assessed, and from experience we know that we cannot just accept it at face value.”
She added, “If the government thinks individual men released from Guantanamo have “returned to the battlefield,” then it should tell us who they are and what they are alleged to have done. These periodic reports that do not provide names or any concrete allegations are useless at best and fear mongering at worst. They function much like those color-coded terror warnings that the government has now had the sense to drop.”
She continued: “Tragically, these reports continue to obscure the fact that the vast majority of the men at Guantanamo should never have been detained in the first place and that a great injustice has been done to them. Hundreds of men have now been released and are peacefully rebuilding their lives. Rather than fueling fear, the government should be acknowledging these facts and making sure that the remaining men who have been wrongfully detained are quickly repatriated or resettled.”
Earlier reports that did identify individuals by name revealed, for example, that former detainee Moazzem Begg had been classified as a "recidivist" because he participated in a documentary about Guantanamo.
“As we now know from cables released by WikiLeaks, Mr. Begg has been privately championed by the State Department for his lack of animosity towards the United States since his release and for his valuable work assisting with the resettlement of other detainees,” CCR said.
An August 2010 U.S. Department of Justice letter responding to a Freedom of Information Act request reveals that criteria for identifying recidivism are arbitrary and can change at any time: “DIA [U.S. States Defense Intelligence Agency] does not endeavor to create any sort of firm guidelines for identifying a detainee as having returned to the fight,” CCR claims, adding:
“In the absence of specific and concrete information, which has been called for each time new reports have been released, the latest findings can simply not be assessed or trusted. They only serve to thwart the release of men whom the courts or the government have determined should not be detained and to fuel unfounded generalizations about detainees, the vast majority of whom have been successfully repatriated and resettled.”
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that intelligence officials claimed that five of the 69 detainees transferred to other countries from Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration are believed to have rejoined terrorist groups.
The DNI report also said two former detainees were confirmed to be "re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities" and three others released in 2009 are suspected of doing so. The former detainees weren't named.
Since the prison at GITMO was opened in 2002, 598 detainees have been released, most of them during the administration of George W. Bush. They were sent home or to other countries that agreed to take them in.
Among the recent diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks are some describing the inducements and pressure U.S. officials proffered to secure host countries for detainees scheduled for release.
In the past, other organizations have also taken issue with recidivism statistics provided by the Department of Defense (DOD) and other government agencies. Students and faculty of Seton Hall law school have carried out extensive examinations of the claims made in prior reports as well as questioning the methodology used to arrive at those claims, and revealed numerous errors and anomalies.
On his first day in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay in one year. But the task has proved more challenging than the administration imagined. In addition to the difficulty of finding host countries for prisoners scheduled for release, the issue became highly politicized by widespread rumors that former detainees “would be allowed to roam the Main Streets of American towns and cities with impunity.”
While this was never the government’s intention, members of congress were [placed under considerable pressure by their frightened constituencies.
When the government proposed to try the alleged mastermind of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks in a New York federal court, a public outcry forced the Obama administration to put the idea on a back burner – where it remains.
One Guantanamo inmate has been tried in federal civilian court in New York without incident. He was found guilty and faces a sentence of 20 years to life.