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The Meaning of 'Soaring'

6:30 AM, Dec 8, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Via Sam Stein at the Huffington Post (“Obama Administration Pushes Back On Report That Gitmo Recidivism Has ‘Soared’”), an anonymous Obama administration official has offered a reply (of sorts) to my piece on the DNI’s latest assessment of Guantanamo recidivism. It is odd that anyone in the Obama administration thought it was necessary to reply in the first place because I hardly flogged the administration for the increasing recidivism rate.

The Meaning of 'Soaring'

I made it clear that the “overwhelming majority” of confirmed and suspected recidivists on the DNI’s list – 145 of the 150 – were transferred during the Bush years. The news that 5 of the former detainees on the DNI’s recidivist list were transferred by the Obama administration is actually somewhat downplayed in my piece. 

Moreover, how can anyone dispute that the number of estimated recidivists has “soared”? It is a straightforward matter. The previous assessments concluded that there were 37 confirmed and suspected recidivists as of June 2008, 61 as of January 2009, 74 as of April 2009, and between 110 and 120 as of February 2010. There are now 150 confirmed and suspected recidivists. 

That’s four times as many as two and a half years ago, more than double the April 2009 estimate, and about 30 percent greater than the estimate in February 2010.

That is “soaring,” “skyrocketing,” or whatever other adjective you want to use to describe an assessment that has quadrupled in just two and a half years.

So why is the Obama administration so concerned about the DNI’s new report?

The real issue, in my view, has to do with the president’s decision to close Gitmo and the administration’s detainee transfer policies. The Obama administration cannot close Guantanamo without transferring a large number of detainees to other countries. This is why Stein’s source emphasizes that the Obama administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force implemented a “new, more comprehensive system” for determining what is to be done with the detainees, including transferring them.

But how different is the result of this supposedly “new, more comprehensive system” with respect to detainee transfer decisions? The overall result is not very different at all, even if there are some important differences with respect to individual detainees.

Look at it this way. About 779 detainees have been held at Gitmo and 532 were transferred by the Bush administration.

That’s a transfer rate of 68 percent.

President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force reviewed the case files on 240 detainees. The task force determined that “126 detainees were approved for transfer” and 30 Yemeni detainees were to be held in “conditional” detention. The 30 Yemenis can be transferred to other countries or Yemen, if the security situation there improves (though that’s not going to happen anytime soon). So, of the 240 detainees evaluated by Obama’s task force, a total of 156 were approved for outright or conditional transfer.

That’s a proposed transfer rate of 65 percent.

In other words, the Obama administration intends to transfer about the same percentage of detainees that the Bush administration did. But there’s one important difference. Some, perhaps many, of the detainees the Obama administration seeks to transfer were not, in fact, transferred by the Bush administration. That is, the Obama administration inherited a detainee population that the Bush administration found to be especially problematic, even by Gitmo’s standards. (In some cases this has to do with the detainees’ dossiers; in other cases, as with the Yemenis, their home countries are a concern.) Under such circumstances, you might expect that the Obama administration would approve a smaller share of the remaining detainees for transfer, not essentially the same percentage.

Simply put, Obama’s task force approved for transfer nearly two-thirds of the detainees it evaluated. It is difficult to argue that this is a vast improvement over the Bush administration’s flawed approach to transfers. It also would have been hard for the task force to approve even more detainees for transfer.

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