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The release of Congress’ omnibus spending bill on December 8 may have effectively ended President Obama’s long held desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. However, this news is overshadowed by a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that shows a disturbing increase in the number of Guantanamo’s former detainees heading back to wage jihad.
If passed, the spending bill would block all funding to either transfer detainees to existing American prisons, or to build a new prison on American soil in which to house them. Even though the measure would be in effect for only one year, chances of its funding restrictions being extended beyond that are very good, given Republicans will soon be in control of much of Congress for the next two years.
While the Congressional move comes as a relief to those who have long advocated keeping Guantanamo the permanent home for terrorist detainees, the release of the DNI report, which found that 25% of the detainees released from Guantanamo Bay had resumed terrorist activities, dampens that mood.
The DNI report, whose publication had been mandated by the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Bill passed by Congress, found that 150 of the 598 detainees released as of October 2010 were either confirmed or suspected to be “reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.”
Most of the 598 detainees had been released under the Bush administration, although President Obama, since taking office in 2009, has reduced the Gitmo population from 240 terrorists down to 174.
The DNI findings display a marked increase from earlier Department of Defense (DOD) estimates on the number of former detainees choosing a return back to the jihad. In June 2008 the DOD found 37 such cases; in January 2009, 61: and in April 2009, 74.
As troubling as these figures may be, there are those who believe the true recidivism rates to be probably much higher than what has already been reported. They point out that, absent encountering the returned terrorist on the battlefield, one must be in possession of some extremely good intelligence to ascertain what the terrorist is really up to, intelligence which is often a rare commodity. As such, any recidivism figures reported can be considered just so much conjecture.
In either case, the DNI warns the current number of released detainees resuming their former trade may not remain static for too long, stating, “The Intelligence Community assesses that the number of former detainees identified as reengaged in terrorist or insurgent activity will increase.”
The DNI findings evoked some harsh criticism, in particular from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), Vice-Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who called the idea of so many terrorists roaming free “alarming.” Yet, the report seemed to come as little surprise to the Obama administration. According to State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley, the administration “actually expected this would happen.”
While that view may provide little comfort to those who may soon find themselves targets of these newly re-circulated terrorists, it did line up with previous administration sentiments, specifically those voiced by President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan. In February 2010 he had noted that 20 percent of terrorists caught rejoining the jihad wouldn’t be “that bad.”
In fact, for its part, the Obama administration has blamed any increased terrorist recidivism as due to the Bush administration’s poor review process, a step that was supposed to be rectified by Obama’s January 2009 Executive Order that aimed to strengthen the process to determine which detainees could be placed on trial and which could be transferred overseas.
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