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May 29th, 2009
11:11 AM ET

Inflating the Guantanamo Threat

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/05/26/gitmo.recidivism/art.gitmo.bay.afp.gi.jpg caption="A guard talks with a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, earlier this year."]

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Peter Bergen on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann
For The New York Times

Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul and Said Ali al-Shihri may be the two best arguments for why releasing detainees from Guantánamo Bay poses a real risk to America. Mr. Rasoul, who was transferred to Afghanistan in 2007 and then released by the Kabul government, is now the commander of operations for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Mr. Shihri, sent back to his native Saudi Arabia in 2007, is now a leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.

Are these two men exceptional cases, or are they emblematic of a much larger problem of dangerous terrorists who, if released, will “return to the battlefield”? To help answer that question, a Pentagon report made public on Tuesday concluded that 74 of the 534 men who have been freed from Guantánamo were “confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activities.” This is a recidivism rate of around 14 percent, which was up from the Pentagon’s previous estimate in January of 11 percent.

But are things this bad? While we must of course be careful about who is released, these numbers are very likely inflated. This is in part because the Pentagon includes on the list any released prisoner who is either “confirmed” or just “suspected” to have engaged in terrorism anywhere in the world, whether those actions were directed at the United States or not. And, bizarrely, the Defense Department has in the past even lumped into the recidivist category former prisoners who have done no more than criticize the United States after their release.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Guantanomo Bay • Peter Bergen
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Stacy

    Thank you for bringing context to a strident debate. I'm tired of the fearmongering.

    May 29, 2009 at 2:39 pm |
  2. Michelle - St Augustine, FL

    Dont you think that this is the price we must pay for lowering our moral standards. Torture and mistreatment of any human being has a price whether it be in morality, karma, or security. This country's leaders chose to break the law of this country, international laws, and moral standards. We as a nation dont have to like what was done but we have to live with the fact that this nation at one dark moment did practice torture.

    May 29, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  3. Mari

    One of the problems of Guantanamo is that IF the men were not terrorists when they arrived, once released they will be great recruiters for terrorists organizations!

    No one is going to be releasing everyone & anyone....... the government will give careful consideration to each prisoner.

    How sad it is that we are having to pay for yet another Bush mistake!

    Guantanamo is a hornets nest!

    May 29, 2009 at 10:40 am |