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Mark Kirk: The Officer of Misinformation on Afghanistan

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Rep. Mark KirkWhat do the Taliban's Mullah Omar, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Mawlawi rebel Jalaluddin Haqqani have in common? They're all active in the Taliban. They're all senior figures in the organization and not one of them has ever been in the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

But if you ask Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the Taliban's senior management is stocked with hardened, bitter, ex-Gitmo detainees. After all, this is what he "learned" while he was serving in Afghanistan recently as part of his duty with the Naval Reserve.

Listen here for audio.

From blog Progress Illinois:

KIRK: Another issue I found, and this is probably the most controversial, is the role of Gitmo detainees in this conflict. All of the major leaders of the Taliban in the south are former Gitmo releasees.  All of them.

The unclassified number is that 61 former releasees are now waging jihad against the United States.  And the principal commander killing our forces in the south of Afghanistan is Mullah Zakir who was released from Guantanamo Bay.  I would urge the administration to stop all further releases from Guantanamo because otherwise they enter our battlespace.

The U.S. military has released more than 500 detainees on the basis that we had no reason to hold them. In the eight years of the Bush Administration there were only three military tribunals. The Obama Administration continues, today, to struggle with the errors of the past administration in trying to find places to send Gitmo detainees who have been cleared for release because they were found not to be terrorists. (Chinese Uighurs, anyone?) Yet Rep. Kirk is repeating the misinformation that 61 former detainees are "waging jihad against the United States."

Progress Illinois took a closer look at those numbers and quickly debunked them:

So where did that "61 former releasees" figure come from?  It was included in an unclassified February 2009 Department of Defense report which found that 14 percent of former Gitmo prisoners subsequently resumed extremist activity. Yesterday, the Pentagon updated those statistics, showing a slight uptick this past year in the recidivism rate for former prisoners, although specifics remain classified.

But those statistics deserve a heavy grain of salt. Multiple independent studies last year, by the New America Foundation and professors at Seton Hall University, found that the 14 percent estimate was likely inflated. For instance, as the American Prospect's Adam Serwer noted yesterday, the Seton Hall team found that the Pentagon included in their list "several detainees who had participated in a film critical of Guantanamo Bay."

Progress Illinois goes on to point out that the Pentagon has stated that only 43 of former Gitmo prisoners are suspected of heading off to the battlefield. Suspected. Yet Rep. Kirk speaks with such certainty. But one does one expect from the same guy who went all Chicken Little Hawk over the prospect of Gitmo detainees coming to a prison in Thomson, Ill.? Who went so "THE SKY IS FALLING" that even some fellow Republicans had to pull back on Kirk and point out to him that his fearmongering on Thomson wasn't conducive to a mature debate. Kirk later did pull back and state that he wanted a rational debate on Thomson. Perhaps this is another case of speak crazy first, pull back with common sense later. After all, now the misinformation is out there, just like he wanted.

This post originally appeared on New Security Action. New Security Action is a new organization dedicated to fighting for a progressive, smart national security policy. We are fighting to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.