President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, is once again drawing criticism. This time, Brennan’s remarks concerning the Pentagon’s latest Gitmo recidivism study have come under scrutiny.
The Pentagon’s most recent study on Gitmo recidivism concluded that 20 percent of detainees have either been confirmed as, or are suspected of, returning to terrorism. Brennan cited the 20 percent figure in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders earlier this month. Brennan explained that this figure “includes 9.6 percent of detainees who are confirmed recidivists and 10.4 percent of detainees who the Intelligence Community suspects, but is not certain, may have engaged in recidivist activities.”
While speaking at the Islamic Center at New York University on Saturday, Brennan again cited the 20 percent figure, but downplayed its significance. “People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, say 'Oh my goodness, one out of five detainees returned to some type of extremist activity,'” Jake Tapper of ABC News quotes Brennan as saying.
“You know, the American penal system, the recidivism rate is up to something about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn't that bad,” Brennan added.
As Tapper notes, Brennan’s comments led to more criticism by leading Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham.
The problem is that terrorism is not an ordinary crime, so comparing Gitmo recidivist rates to recidivist rates for ordinary criminals is very much like comparing apples and oranges. A serial thief, for instance, is not nearly as threatening as a former Gitmo detainee who blows himself up in Iraq, killing 13 Iraqis and wounding dozens more.
In addition, the 20 percent figure is just the latest estimate – which has risen dramatically in the past 18 months. As I’ve written previously:
In June 2008, the DoD 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. In May 2009, when the last report was leaked to the New York Times (the report was based on information available as of mid-March 2009), the DoD had found that same metric had risen further to 74--exactly double the Pentagon's estimate just 11 months before.
The 20 percent figure cited by the Pentagon and Brennan translates to a current estimated number of recidivists north of 100. A good estimate is 112. Thus, in June 2008 the estimate was just 37 former detainees. Today, less than two years later, the estimate is roughly three times higher.
So, when Brennan says that 20 percent isn't that bad he is ignoring the fact that the estimated number of recidivists continues to grow and could easily be much higher just months from now.
The Left does not like this one bit. Despite the fact that Brennan stood by the latest estimate, while conceding that getting the right number is tough to do, Tapper cited a shill for the detainees as saying:
Shayana Kadidal of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights challenged that figure, saying that his organization believes fewer than half a dozen former Guantanamo detainees have gotten involved in “any criminal activity.”
Kadidal’s comment is absurd on its face, but it does go to show that the detainees’ lawyers will say anything. It doesn’t take much to figure out that the total number of recidivists is well above “less than half a dozen.”
For example, Evan Kohlmann of the NEFA Foundation has produced an excellent analysis of eleven Saudis who were all properly identified as terrorists, detained at Gitmo, transferred to Saudi custody and then returned to terrorism. The eleven includes Said al Shihri (deputy of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or “AQAP”), Ibrahim Rubaish (the current chief ideologue for AQAP), and two others who have been killed in shootouts. One of the eleven has since been returned to Saudi custody.
Other examples of Gitmo recidivists include: Abdullah al Ajmi (blew himself up in Iraq), Hani Abdo Shalaan (killed while plotting suicide attack on British embassy in Yemen), Mullah Zakir (leader of Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan), Abdullah Mehsud (Taliban commander killed during raid by Pakistanis), Shah Mohammed (killed while fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan), Abdullah Majid al Naimi (who was arrested in Saudi Arabia, according to the DoD, for being involved in terrorist facilitation and having known ties to al Qaeda), Mohammed Ismail (recaptured, according to the DoD, after “participating in an attack against U.S. forces near Kandahar”), Mohammed Bin Ahmad Mizouz and Ibrahim Bin Shakaran (who were convicted of recruiting Moroccans to fight for Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq).
The preceding two paragraphs include twenty examples of recidivists. There are easily 20 to 30 more recidivists who are identifiable in publicly-available information that can be retrieved through online searches. The Pentagon also claims it has classified information indicating that dozens more have returned to terrorism. Again, the total current estimate is north of 100.
Yet, here is Shayana Kadidal, who is a lawyer for the Gitmo detainees, claiming that fewer than half a dozen Gitmo detainees have returned to terrorism. The detainees’ lawyers will simply say anything. The question is: Why do journalists cite them without noting their nonsense?
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.