Obama Administration Pushes Back On Report That Gitmo Recidivism Has 'Soared'

12/07/2010 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Tuesday pushed back on reports that the recidivism rate for released Guantanamo Bay detainees has skyrocketed, arguing that the current review process remains thorough and that rates of recidivism remain lower than those that existed "under the prior system."

"The President and our military commanders agree that closing the prison at Guantanamo is a national security imperative in the war against al Qaida. The President has also made it clear that he will move toward that goal in a way that best protects the American people," said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. "We take any incidence of recidivism very seriously. We will deal with recidivists the way we deal with any individual who threatens our national security: by working to bring them to justice."

On Tuesday, the Director of National Intelligence's office released a new intelligence assessment showing that 150 former Guantanamo detainees are either "confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities."

The conservative Weekly Standard, which first jumped on the findings, said that new numbers constituted a soaring of the rate, noting that: "as recently as February of this year, the Obama administration claimed that none of the detainees it had transferred had returned to terrorism." Now 81 of the 150 former detainees on its list are confirmed recidivists, while 69 are suspected recidivists.

Asked for a response, a senior administration official stressed that just 66 of the nearly 600 detainees released from GITMO were released during the Obama administration. Of that total, the official said, only five were confirmed or expected recidivists. A spokesman for DNI confirmed those numbers.

The administration official also sent over the following reply, laying out both the steps that the president has taken to review the case files of GITMO detainees.

This administration has changed the way these cases are handled. In January 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13492 establishing the most comprehensive review process ever applied to detainees at Guantanamo.

After years of legal challenges and drift, the President's Executive Order directed a comprehensive, interagency review of all individuals detained at Guantanamo.

To implement this directive, the Guantanamo Review Task Force was established with more than 60 career prosecutors, agents, analysts, and attorneys from across the government, including civilian, military, and intelligence officials. The Task Force completed its work in January 2010 and determined which detainees should be transferred, prosecuted or held under the law of war.

While recidivism is a risk associated with any detention program, the recidivism rate for detainees transferred under the new, more comprehensive system - The Guantanamo Review Task Force - has been much lower than for detainees released under the prior system.

For example, any transfer that is made is the result of a unanimous decision across multiple government agencies. In addition, given our current security concerns, there is currently a moratorium on transferring detainees to Yemen, absent a court order.

Of the detainees transferred or repatriated during the Obama Administration 2 detainees have been confirmed and 3 are suspected of recidivism.

Unlike the system in place prior to 2009, during which more than 500 detainees were released, every transfer decision by this Administration comes only after unanimous agreement among the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, and Homeland Security, as well as the Offices of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Each of these agencies participated on the Guantanamo Review Task Force, which conducted the comprehensive review of 240 detainees at Guantanamo and determined which should be transferred, prosecuted or held under the law of war.

All told, the notion that this administration has a GITMO problem remains intact. But it's far more nuanced than to simply argue that the White House is eager to empty the detention center without thought of recidivism. In many cases, detainees were ordered released under habeas petitions -- their cases were too messed up to try, and their continued detention was to tricky to justify.

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