Crossposted with the Center for American Progress with Mickey Ehrlich.
Conservative temperatures rose shortly after Christmas when reports surfaced that members of a group that took "credit" for the failed "underpants" attack had previously been detainees at Guantanamo Bay. For instance, right-wing pundit Mark Steyn worried about "Gitmo recidivists now running around Yemen" and what he called "the Gitmo-Yemen express checkout."
Too bad Steyn and his fellow conservatives were working from a fictional script. In fact, the two former detainees who were identified in the press as members of the Al Qaeda cell involved in planning the attacks were from Saudi Arabia, not Yemen. In November 2008, McClatchy's Shashank Bengali reported that Yemen, far from being an "express checkout," was the biggest obstacle to the Bush administration's efforts to transfer most of Gitmo's prisoners back to their home countries. Bengali quoted a Yemeni Foreign Minister: "Based on the information we have, some of the Guantanamo prisoners have nothing to do with terrorism... We cannot imprison them without a court sentence. We cannot do something that is against our laws. We are accountable to our own public."
Some sloppy reporting in the mainstream media has allowed this nonsense to seep into the larger discourse. Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin noted that the The New York Times ran a story back in May with a headline reading, "1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds."
But look at the fine print, Froomkin advised. Elisabeth Bumiller's article was based on a Pentagon report insisting that about "one in five" detainees who were released "has engaged in, or is suspected of engaging in, terrorism or militant activity," not that they were returning to terrorism. And what is the Pentagon's definition of "terrorist?" Anyone alleged to make what it considers to be an anti-American statement...
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals, was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/altercation and is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.
Mickey Ehrlich is a freelance writer based in New York.