By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing domestic political pressures, the Bush and Obama administrations released or transferred 600 terror suspects deemed an acceptable threat from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to find that 27 percent re-engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities, according to a report by Republicans on the investigations panel of the House Armed Services Committee.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, provides the GOP perspective on an issue that has divided Washington since the start of the Afghanistan war and the opening of the Navy prison for those captured. And it split the White House and Congress last year over how to write rules on handling detainees.
The report comes as Obama administration officials have acknowledged they are considering whether to release several Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo and send them to a third country as an incentive to bring the Taliban to peace talks. The step is certain to create an uproar on Capitol Hill, especially among Republicans. The 93-page study is likely to be part of the GOP effort to influence the ongoing debate.
"We have great reservations about releasing detainees because of the clear evidence that they end up back on the battlefield," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a news conference.
In a rare break on a committee that typically is bipartisan on defense issues, Democrats dissented from the report despite efforts to reconcile their differences, with four members of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee calling the study incomplete and declining to sign it.
The report cites testimony before the committee last year that 27 percent of former detainees "were confirmed or suspected to have been re-engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities," up from 25 percent the previous year. Intelligence officials had indicated that the number would increase.
"The Bush and Obama administrations, reacting to domestic political pressures and a desire to earn goodwill abroad, sought to reduce the Guantanamo population by sending detainees elsewhere," the report said. "Both administrations faced the persistent challenge of ensuring that the potential threat posed by each detainee had been aptly assessed before transfer or release, and that the countries that received the detainees had the capacity and willingness to handle them in a way that sufficiently recognized the dangers involved.
"Despite earnest and well-meaning efforts by officials in both administrations, the re-engagement rate suggests failures in one or both aspects of the process," the report concluded.
The report recommended that the Defense Department, CIA and other intelligence agencies report to Congress on the factors that contribute to a former detainee's re-engaging in terrorist activities. The committee also is seeking reports on the effectiveness of agreements with other countries.
As of Jan. 1, 779 individuals have been held at Guantanamo, 600 have left the installation, eight died there and 171 remain, the report said, citing the Defense Department.
The report noted that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held the view that the military should not be a jailer and there was a plan to get detainees out. President Barack Obama also had vowed to close Guantanamo, though he has met strong resistance in Congress.
Lawmakers repeatedly have added provisions to various bills blocking the government from transferring detainees from Guantanamo to the United States, or barring the construction of facilities domestically to house terror suspects.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the report failed to take into account "the national security gains of shutting down the facility at Guantanamo. That is a goal that the Bush administration sought to achieve, and it is rightly a goal of the Obama administration. I continue to believe that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a black eye for our nation abroad, serving as a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists. We have the ability to close the facility, and we should be working towards that end."
In their dissent, Democrats said the report assessed a few cases, presenting "an unbalanced, one-sided view of the consequences of the current transfer policy." Democrats pointed out that terror suspects who had been held at Guantanamo had been successfully resettled in Albania, Bermuda and Palau, among several other countries, and at least 73 percent have not re-engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities.
During the Obama administration, Democrats said, 66 individuals have been transferred from Guantanamo, with only two confirmed as re-engaging. That amounts to about 3.3 percent.
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