As the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, enters its tenth year, a Washington think tank is challenging intelligence estimates suggesting that large numbers of released detainees have taken up arms against the United States.
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper claimed in December -- that 13.5 percent of former Guantanamo detainees are "confirmed" to have "returned to the battlefield" and an additional 11.5 percent are suspected of "reengaging" in terrorist or insurgent activities after their release.
Conservatives, along with the corporate media, embraced the government narrative that as many as one in four former detainees had returned to the battlefield, up sharply from the prior year.
However, the DNI did not offer any evidence.
But three scholars with the New America Foundation are out with a new analysis backed up with data. The authors -- Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Andrew Lebovich -- conclude that only six percent of released detainees -" not 13.5 per cent -" are engaged with or are "suspected of having engaged with" insurgents aimed at attacking U.S. interests. Another two percent have engaged or are suspected of having engaged against non-U.S. targets, the NAF analysis said.
A total of almost 800 men have been held at GuantÃ¡namo at one time or another since it opened in January 2002, and around 600 have been released.
Members of an NAF panel Tuesday afternoon also challenged the notion that some detainees "returned" to the battlefield, noting that many were innocent to begin with.
It has long been known that something approaching 95 per cent of GITMO prisoners were not captured by American forces, but were sold to the Americans for bounty.
Panelist Andy Worthington, a British freelance journalist who tracks Guantanamo detainees, said he was concerned at how the recidivism figures were "conjured up out of nowhere" but treated as fact by many mainstream media outlets. "It's bad journalism," he said.
Most reports also lacked context. "You don't have anything like a zero
recidivism rate in any prison system," he said. The average recidivism rate in U.S. prisons is slightly over 50 per cent within three years of release.
The NAF figures were cited by conservatives to support their arguments against closing Guantanamo. Democrats, afraid of the political repercussions, joined with Republicans to include provisions in the latest defense authorization bill intended to prevent Obama from closing Guantanamo.
Obama last week called those provisions "dangerous and unprecedented."
"Every day that a place like Guantanamo is open is an insult to values that decent American people hold," Worthington said.
The NAF analysis is far from the first to find fault with the government's figures. Earlier, reports from Seton Hall Law School and Syracuse University's Transactional Clearing House (TRAC) charged that the DNI reports were inaccurate, lacking supporting data, and slanted to put the most undesirable face on the issue.
In 2009, Professor Mark Denbeaux of the Seton Hall University law school issued another of the school's reports on recidivism at GITMO, and told this reporter that the U.S. Defense Department was "issuing questionable data on the number of Guantanamo detainees who have been released and then returned to the battlefield."
He said the reason was because the government "is now in a position where they have to find some bad guys--even if they have to invent them by naming people who were never there."