As part of President Barack Obama’s renewed push to close Guantanamo Bay, a US counterterrorism official told Senators that only six detainees released since the president’s pledge returned to terrorism or military activities.
Speaking to a Senate panel skeptical on shuttering the infamous facility, Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that the recidivism rates from Guantanamo were on the decline.
Six of the 88 detainees released from Guantanamo since 2009 have been determined by US intelligence to be “directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities,” Rasmussen told the Senate Armed Services Committee, for a confirmed recidivism rate of 6.8%. Another released prisoner is suspected of returning, for a total rate of 7.9%
Those figures were current as of September 2014, before the administration transferred 27 detainees in November. New figures in March are expected to be “largely in line” with existing trends, Rasmussen said.
The new numbers also would include an assessment on the “Taliban Five,” who were traded for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. One of those former prisoners is suspected of such a return.
If lawmakers are reluctant to close Guantanamo, it could be because of the 532 detainees who left Guantanamo before Obama took office, 101 have been confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorism or insurgency, while another 76 are suspected, the Pentagon’s Brian McKeon said.
That makes for a total recidivism rate of 33% under President George W. Bush’s administration.
Last month, Senator John McCain, who supports a bill that would sharply restrict transfers out of Guantanamo, said “We know for a fact that roughly 30% of those who have been released have re-entered the fight.”
According to the Obama administration, the recidivism rate only approaches 30% when combining the confirmed and suspected re-engagement rates across both administrations since 2002.
McKeon told the committee that closing Guantanamo is a national security imperative, echoing the words of the president. Its continued operation “weakens our national security, damaging our relationship to key allies and is used by violent extremists to incite local populations.”
“In my opinion, the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now,” responded Freshman Republican Senator Tom Cotton, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran.
“We should be sending more terrorists there,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they can’t do that, they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.”
At one point, activists from the anti-war group Code Pink disrupted the hearing. One man, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit, was arrested by Capital Police after he hopped to his feet and yelled, “What’s wrong with you, America?”
Of the 122 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, 54 were identified as posing no threat and cleared for transfer long ago, while 58 are still being assessed. Another seven, including the five accused 9/11 co-conspirators, are facing war crimes charges before military commissions. Three others have been sentenced.