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Questioning ‘High’ Risk Gitmo Detainee Transfers

10:35 AM, Jul 13, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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In sum, whereas Olsen’s task force approved roughly 2 out of every 3 (65 percent) Guantanamo detainees for transfer, JTF-GTMO recommended that approximately 1 out of every 4 (25 percent) be transferred. The task force approved only 35 percent of the detainees for indefinite detention or prosecution, whereas JTF-GTMO recommended that roughly 75 percent be retained in DoD custody.

Guantanamo transfers are not risk free       

To his credit, Olsen has been more candid than most when it comes to the risks involved in transferring Guantanamo detainees. When the U.S. government transfers a detainee, it does not mean that he has been deemed innocent or risk-free. Olsen explained the risks involved during an interview with BBC News. “No decision about any of these detainees is without some risk,” Olsen said. “We need to be clear about the fact that we're making predicted judgments at some level about whether somebody is going to pose a risk to us in the future if they are released.”

The task force’s final report underscores this point. “It is important to emphasize that a decision to approve a detainee for transfer does not reflect a decision that the detainee poses no threat or no risk of recidivism,” the task force noted. “Rather, the decision reflects the best predictive judgment of senior government officials, based on the available information, that any threat posed by the detainee can be sufficiently mitigated through feasible and appropriate security measures in the receiving country.”

In other words, the U.S. government is relying on foreign governments to mitigate the risks of transferred detainees. The problem is that the more we’ve learned over time, the clearer it has become that foreign governments are frequently unable or unwilling to mitigate these risks.

The Bush administration itself transferred a large number of “high” risk detainees, including many of the Saudis held at Guantanamo. JTF-GTMO recommended that a large number of the detainees transferred by the Bush administration be retained in DoD custody as well. An increasing number of these transferred detainees have returned to the terror network, according to the Obama administration’s own estimates.

The bottom line is that the transfer of Guantanamo detainees entails, in many cases, “high” risks. The Guantanamo task force set up by President Obama was willing to accept far more of these risks than JTF-GTMO. It was also willing to accept more risk than the Bush administration with respect to the detainees remaining at Guantanamo in late January 2009. (The task force’s final report notes that only 59 of the 240 detainees, or 25 percent, “were approved for transfer or release by the prior administration but remained at Guantanamo by the time the Executive Order was issued.” Compare this to the 65 percent approved for transfer by the task force.)

It is clear that the Guantanamo Review Task Force, headed by Matthew Olsen, approved a large number of “high” risk transfers. The senators presiding over Olsen’s confirmation hearing may want to ask: Why?

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

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