Times GITMO Recidivism Story Immediately Cast In Doubt
Yesterday, the New York Times' led with a big splashy report that the Pentagon was in possession of a document that made a claim that was sure to cramp the style of GITMO-closure advocates: that one in seven GITMO detainees released by the Bush administration "returned to terrorism." Obviously, this is far too high a cost to risk actual recognizable justice being rendered in these detainees' cases, so all of them obviously must stay on Free Colonoscopy Island Forever. Sorry about that, six-out-of-seven guys who didn't return to a life of terrorism and that -- who knows? -- maybe weren't terrorists in the first place! Y'all need to realize that America is an EXCEPTIONAL nation!
Anyway, this isn't the first time these stories of high recidivist rates have cropped up, and they've previously been disputed by no less a Communist than Defense Secretary Bob Gates, so it was of particular interest to me how long this story would hang together under fresh scrutiny. As it happens, NOT LONG!
As I noted yesterday, by nine in the morning, Spencer Ackerman was already finding cause for concern:
This, however, doesn't inspire confidence:The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.
We also made note of Talking Points Memo's Justin Elliot, who found the very reporter who wrote the story walking it back:
New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller is now casting doubt on the claim in her front page story today, pounced on by the right and quickly picked up on cable, that one in seven detainees released from Guantanamo "returned to terrorism or militant activity."
Appearing on MSNBC today, Bumiller said "there is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know -- some of them are being held there on vague charges."
Since then, the Times' headline changed from "1 in 7 Detainees Returned To Jihad, Pentagon Says" to "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees." And via Elliot, the lede has been changed as well, from:
"An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials."
"An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials."
Oh, and further doubts? Got some! Via Spencer Ackerman:
Human Rights Watch claims in a press release that at least one "recidivist" GTMO detainee counted in the Pentagon's "recidivism" report confessed to his post-GTMO crimes after they were beaten out of him.
Anyway, the question now is whether or not all these caveats, and the walking back done by the piece's own reporter, will garner as much attention as the original report. I distinctly remember Joe Scarborough, for example, being really excited about this report yesterday and praising the New York Times for giving it placement on the front page. To Morning Joe's credit, the show acknowledged today that the New York Times was "revisiting" the story and exploring both the possibility that the imprisonment itself bred militancy, as well as whether or not all the charges of post-detainment terror activity were credible. Kudos to them. Their example should be followed.