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New York Times Recycles Debunked Gitmo Recidivism Story

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Oops, the Times did it again! So nice (and wrong) that they ran it twice, The New York Times is repeating a claim they made last May that Guantanamo Bay detainees are "rejoining the fight," based on a sketchy, leaked Pentagon source. Never mind that back in May the Times ended up running a lengthy retraction of the story. Back then, they said the Pentagon report claimed "one-in-seven" detainees went back to being deadly Jihadists. Now the number is magically "one-in-five."

What the Times story leaves out is the fact that the Pentagon numbers are misleading at best and flat-out wrong at worst. The Pentagon study assumes that all detainees are terrorists (even though more than 500 have been released because it was found they were not) and counts things as small as their lawyers publishing papers critical of the United States government as "returning to the fight."

The numbers are a lie. Fortunately a lot of folks are out front debunking this myth.

From the Center For Constitution Rights via Huffington Post, where author Shayana Kadidal essentially repeats what he wrote nine months ago:

The story indicates that the Times has seen a copy of the report. But had Times Pentagon correspondent (and Condi Rice biographer) Elizabeth Bumiller seen any names? Apparently, 74 detainees are claimed to have returned to "the fight" (up from the 5, 7, 10, 12, 31, 61, and other unsupported totals the military has issued over the years). But 45 names they won't release. (Which it to say, those claims are nonsense -- compare the "43 suspected of returning to the fight" from DOD's Jan. 14 press conference.) As to the others, "29 have been identified by name by the Pentagon, including 16 named for the first time in the report." If so, that means 13 were previously named. Luckily we have a report from the Pentagon from July, 2007 which names names, and includes the "anti‐coalition militant activities" the detainees are supposed to have participated in. Included: three English detainees whose "militant" activity was participating in the making of Michael Winterbottom's movie The Road to Guantanamo and seeking damages for their torture in U.S. courts, and five Uighurs, shipped off to Albania to forestall a court hearing on their release in 2006 and living in a run-down refugee camp there, whose crime was to complain to Tim Golden of the same New York Times about their miserable condition.


Also pointing out the error, TPMMuckracker:

TPMmuckraker pointed out that, among other flaws in the story and the Defense Department study on which it was based, the piece simply accepted the Pentagon's assumption that all Guantanamo detainees were jihadists when they entered the prison. Under that theory, all detainees who were allegedly engaging in terrorism had therefore "rejoined" the fight. In fact, there's evidence that that assumption is false.

The Times changed the headline online to "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees" and ultimately published a lengthy correction on the story. The Public Editor devoted an entire column to the story, writing that the episode "demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically."

Also, The American Prospect's Adam Serwer chimed in on their TAPPED blog, summing up that this report is no excuse to keep Gitmo open:

It still seems to me that until the report is declassified and the numbers can be evaluated independently, they should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, plans to close Guantanamo Bay haven't been discarded, and they shouldn't be. The fact that a very small number of Gitmo detainees, relatively speaking, have recidivated, is no reason to maintain a national security liability and terrorist recruitment tool like Gitmo functioning.

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.