The debate over closing the Guantánamo Bay military detention center in Cuba, long a campaign promise of President-elect Barack Obama, just got more complicated. New Pentagon intelligence asserts that 61 former Guantánamo Bay detainees, or about 11 percent of those who have been released, appear to have returned to involvement in terrorism.
While officials provided few details, the Defense Intelligence Agency numbers highlight the problem of what to do with the roughly 255 remaining detainees. Some of them have been cleared for release, subject to finding a country to take them.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates supports the closure of the Guantánamo detention center, but handling the remaining detainees remains one of the "thorny issues" that the president-elect and his new team will confront, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said today.
In many cases, the U.S. government is looking for other countries to take in prisoners with the guarantee that they will not be tortured or persecuted there. In other instances, the United States is seeking countries that will "at least monitor them effectively so they don't return to terrorism," said Morrell.
The new figures on recidivism, current though December 24, suggest that such monitoring will be among the new administration's most pressing goals. The latest numbers show "a pretty substantial increase in recidivism," said Morrell.
Prior to the new report, the recidivism rate among those who had been held at Guantánamo and released was 7 percent confirmed or suspected of "returning to the fight"—a total of 37 former prisoners. According to the new figures, that number has increased to 11 percent, or 61 total, with 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.
"I don't think we're prepared to identify where each and every one of these people was released to and where they've since either went on to commit an act of terrorism or are suspected of going on to commit an act of terrorism," said Morrell. "Just that we have, you know, intelligence, in some cases evidence, to prove that they have indeed gone on to return to violence, and that's a real concern."
Longtime advocates of the closure of Guantánamo dispute the term "recidivism" and note that these figures could include those who were innocent but were radicalized as a result of mistreatment at the detention center.