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The Obama Administration's Lack of Transparency on Gitmo Recidivism

The administration refuses to release the DIA's most recent studies on Gitmo recidivism.

4:17 PM, Sep 2, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Fred Lucas of CNSNews.com has published an interesting story regarding the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents pertaining to its Guantanamo recidivism studies. CNSNews.com’s reporting is worth your read, but most of the information released by the DIA was already known. It is clear that the DIA withheld the most explosive documents in its possession.

The Obama Administration's Lack of Transparency on Gitmo Recidivism

CNSNews.com says that on January 15, 2010, it submitted an FOIA request to the Defense Department, asking for “the most recent report regarding recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay. Specifically, this is for a report that provides information on terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay who were released and were caught or suspected of committing terrorist acts after their release.”

But the DoD did not provide the “most recent report.” Instead, it supplied dated information that has already been superseded by publicly-available versions the DIA’s recidivism study.

Let me explain.

The document cited in the opening paragraph of CNSNews.com’s report is an older version of the DIA’s recidivism report. CNSNews.com leads off with this sentence: “On Jan. 7, 2009, less than two weeks before Barack Obama was sworn in as president, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report indicated that up until that date there had been 18 confirmed and 43 suspected cases of detainees who had been released from the Guantanamo Bay prison and who had returned to terrorism.”

The total number of recidivist cases in the January 2009 report was therefore 61 (18 confirmed plus 43 suspected). But we already knew this because Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said publicly in Jan. 2009 that the total number of estimated recidivists was at least 61.

A more recent version of the report Morrell cited, based on data available as of mid-March 2009 and authored in April 2009, was leaked to the New York Times and subsequently released by the Obama administration. That report said that the total number of confirmed and suspected recidivists had risen to 74. 

So, the January 2009 report cited by CNSNews.com is an old report that conveys little to no new information. All of the other documents released by the DoD in response to the FOIA request also contained dated information.

Since the April 2009 report, the number of recidivists identified by the DIA has continued to grow. And the Obama administration has refused to release a declassified version of the most recent versions to the public, even though the Bush administration released a version of the study authored in June 2008 and the Obama administration itself released the April 2009 version (only after it was leaked to the Times).

The most recent estimate is well north of 100. We know this because President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, confirmed in February that the total recidivism rate had climbed to 20 percent. The press had reported in January that the DIA’s latest estimate was 20 percent. Doing a little basic math, you can deduce that the total number of estimated recidivists at the time was about 112.

That was eight months ago.

The trend is as follows. In June 2008, the DIA reported that 37 former detainees were “confirmed or suspected” of returning to terrorism. On January 13, 2009—seven months later—Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that number had climbed to 61. This number is now further supported by one of the documents released to CNSNews.com. As of mid-March 2009, the DIA found that same metric had risen further to 74—exactly double the Pentagon's estimate just 11 months before. And then by January 2010 the estimate had reached approximately 112.   

Thus, the DIA’s total estimate increases by about 3 to 4 new recidivists (on average) per month. The estimate today is therefore likely even greater than it was in January 2010. 

The DoD did not release the “most recent” version of the recidivism study to CNSNews.com, as it requested. And the Obama administration will not release the most recent version of the recidivism study to the public, even though there is a prior precedent for doing so.

The public never even got to see a declassified version of the study referenced by Brennan in February of this year. The last time a version was released was all the way back in May 2009 – well over a year ago – and that was in the aftermath of a leak.

CNSNews.com should be commended for pursuing this story, and trying to get the Obama administration to be more transparent in this regard. The publication did get some interesting nuggets, including a document authored in 2006 in which the DIA issued a troubling warning.

The DIA said that the release of detainees “from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East” led to a “corresponding increase in terrorist activity attributed to released GTMO detainees in those areas.” The DIA further worried about “those from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa plugging back into the transnational terrorist networks they affiliated with prior to capture” because “[t]hose returning to transnational networks are more likely to be involved in future major acts of terrorism.” (Emphasis added.)

America’s allies in Europe and elsewhere, who the Obama administration has lobbied aggressively to take more detainees, should be interested in that assessment.

But it is clear that the DoD did not release the most recent recidivism reports to CNSNews.com. Those reports likely indicate that the total number of confirmed and suspected recidivists has risen to well above 100.

 Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

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