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May 21st, 2009
09:06 PM ET

How many detainees go back to terrorism?

A guard talks with a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, earlier this year.
A guard talks with a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, earlier this year.

Editor's note: The Defense Department reports that up to 14 percent of detainees suspected of terrorism and held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay turn to terrorism when they get out of custody. The numbers are alarming. But are they accurate?

Peter Bergen says no. The CNN National Security Analyst believes the recidivism rate for suspected terrorists is far lower than the 14 percent estimate from the Pentagon. Together with his colleagues at The New American Foundation, Bergen concludes that less than 3 percent of released detainees engage in attacks or attempted attacks against the U.S. citizens or interests.

And there is more, as Peter tells us in his dispatch below:

Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

This is what we have concluded based on analysis of press reports, previous DoD statements and al Qaeda or Taliban statements.

Instead of a 14 percent recidivism rate, we found a TOTAL rate of 8 percent - even if you include people making anit-American statements when they got freed.

When you take out those people and guys who joined insurgencies or terror groups that aren't anti-American-focused, the real number is no more than 3 percent. Here's the raw data:

Of 534 detainees released, 13 have engaged in insurgent groups that attack or attempt to attack the U.S., U.S. citizens or U.S. bases abroad. That's 2.4 percent.

Thirteen more engaged in insurgent groups that attack or attempt to attack non-U.S. targets. That's another 2.4 percent.

And 18 more got involved in anti-American propaganda or criticism of the U.S. government or military - but not in terrorism. That's another 3.4 percent.

If you add them up, you can conclude the recidivism rate is 8 percent. But more realistically, no more than 3 percent have gotten involved in groups that engage in anti-American violence. About 5 percent TOTAL are engaged with violent groups anywhere in the world. AND a not surprising 3-4 percent who get involved in anti American propaganda activities.

By comparison, the recidivism rate for convicts coming out of U.S. prisons is about 60 percent.


Filed under: 360° Q & A • Guantanomo Bay • Peter Bergen
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Bob Little

    One is way too many!

    May 22, 2009 at 6:31 am |
  2. Hartmut Rast

    If only I could believe in figures and statistics! The whole discussion about the recidivism rate for suspected terrorism by the Guantanamo detainees sounds to me like a mixture of wishful thinking and to play down the damage for the interpretation of democracy by the former Bush administration. Please do not get me wrong with my ideas about human rights and I disapprove any violence to express ones political views, moreover, suicide bombings or terrorist attacks against whomever. However, being captured and tortured over a longer period of time will make a terrorist even out of a former pacifist and non-violent protester. With the so called War on Terror the US government has brought more difficulties into our world then solutions for a peaceful and tolerant living together. Unfortunately, one can not turn back the time. Hartmut Rast, London

    May 22, 2009 at 5:13 am |
  3. Mike

    It is a shame VP Cheney continues to speak in a defensive manner. It is not any more about defending the past. It is about moving forward. Obama is the new, Cheney is the old. And Cheney just can't seem to understand the new. Every politician worth his weight has to be able to evolve and change with the public's view. Cheney is not listening to the people. And it is making him look bad. No wonder he waited til "after" Obama spoke. If he went first, who knows what else ignorant statements he would have made. I am a life long Republican, and Cheney is really not doing the party or the American people any favors by keeping in the public eye. It was torture! And how dare he say otherwise. Then, we would not have called it that. Today, yes we would! He just can't understand how the American public has evolved its opinion while he keeps his in the past. It is a shame he can't evolve with most of America. President Obama led this evolution. Thank God for that.

    May 22, 2009 at 4:53 am |
  4. DA

    so, Gitmo was excellent at rehabbing these detainees?–12 x better than the US prison system?

    May 22, 2009 at 1:37 am |
  5. Jim

    If even one returns to their old ways that is too many .

    May 21, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  6. Tami

    What is the recidivism rate for the crimanally insane comming out of U.S. prisons. If someone states their intention to commit terrorism because the bible or god told them to, don't they get incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane? Can detainees be "rehabilitated" to a point where they are no longer criminally insane?

    May 21, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  7. LYNN INGANAMORT

    Isn't one percent too many...
    Why don't we just invite a few known terrorist into our country..
    and see what happens ... is there any difference..?
    Oh ..except that this bunch may hate us even more for holding them..

    May 21, 2009 at 10:54 pm |
  8. Heidi

    Good job hammering Cheney's daughter with questions and facts. She was squirming and resorted to one of the lowest GOP tactics: talking over you. Wish you could put a shock collar on people when they do that.

    May 21, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  9. suntak

    perhaps we should keep them in prision longer till they are too old to
    be a terrorrist.

    May 21, 2009 at 9:58 pm |
  10. Patton

    We are at war with terrorists. Since when is it appropriate to release prisoners of war until the war is over. Obama is wrong on this one. I would hate think of having someone like this in charge during WWII otherwise we would all be speaking German or Japanese. Wonder what Obama view on using the atom bomb would be. How would he call it? A misguided experiment?

    May 21, 2009 at 9:55 pm |