Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on “Guantanamo Detainee Transfer Policy and Recidivism.” None of the witnesses claimed that Guantanamo is a major recruiting tool for al Qaeda. That omission is refreshing.
Administration officials, including President Obama himself, have repeatedly claimed over the past two plus years that Gitmo is a major recruiting tool for al Qaeda and jihadist organizations. That simply isn’t true. But it was a convenient political argument for the president and his administration as they desperately tried to shut Guantanamo down.
The witnesses did claim, however, that shuttering Gitmo was the right thing to do. But their argument was reduced to a “perception” problem. In his written testimony, Ambassador Daniel Fried, who negotiates the transfers of detainees, wrote:
Despite the high quality of the facilities and the skill of the personnel there, my years of working on this issue, indirectly in the last Administration and directly in this one, lead me to believe that the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility is in our national interest. The facility’s existence continues to do more to harm than improve our security; indeed, for many years, the facility has constituted a net liability for our nation in the world. It continues to be one of the primary concerns raised with the United States by countries around the world.
And during the question and answer session, Fried made it clear that he was talking about his experience with European countries, which frequently complain about Gitmo’s existence. Fried also conceded that many of their complaints about Gitmo are based on misperceptions about the facility. In his written testimony, Fried argued:
Many of our closest allies are so committed to supporting the President’s policy of seeking to close the Guantanamo detention facility that they have moved past rhetorical support to assistance through action, including by accepting detainees into their own country.
It is true that Fried and his colleagues have convinced European nations to take Gitmo detainees – but not that many. According to data on the New York Times’s web site, European countries have taken only about 30 detainees since January 2009. That is less than 25 percent of the 126 detainees the Obama administration approved for transfer. While that is significant, it is hardly consistent with the Europeans’ hyperventilating over Gitmo. If the facility was truly housing wrongly-detained and abused innocents who pose no threat, as the Europeans frequently claim, then why won’t they take in more?
When asked about recidivists, Fried explained that there are now 3 “confirmed” recidivists and 2 “suspected” recidivists on the government’s list who were transferred during the Obama years. In December 2010, the director of National Intelligence (DNI) released a report saying that 2 “confirmed” and 3 “suspected” recidivists were transferred by the Obama administration.
That means, as sources have confirmed, that one detainee transferred by the Obama administration has gone from the suspected column to the confirmed column since the DNI’s report was released in December. “Confirmed” instances of recidivism require a higher evidentiary threshold than “suspected” cases.
The total number of “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists as of late last year, according to the DNI, is 150. Of those recidivists, 145 were transferred by the Bush administration.
So, while there is no evidence that Guantanamo serves as a major recruiting tool for the terror network, there is quite a bit of evidence that transferring and releasing detainees has added to the jihadists’ ranks.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.