Senate Republicans have blocked a vote on President Obama’s nominee to fill the Director of National Intelligence spot, James Clapper. Why? They want more transparency from the most transparent administration in history.
Senator John McCain relented on Tuesday, according to Reuters, “after receiving a classified report he had sought on an intelligence technology program.” McCain’s office says he still has concerns, but he has lifted his hold on the vote.
Senators Tom Coburn and Kit Bond have held up the nomination vote for a different reason. They want a full briefing on the threat posed by Gitmo detainees. “Several senators are concerned that the administration has been dragging its feet regarding the release of threat assessments of Guantanamo detainees,” an aide to Coburn told Politico. “Clapper’s nomination may be delayed until the administration provides that information.”
It is not clear if Coburn and Bond will relent now that McCain has received the briefing he wanted, which had nothing to do with Guantanamo.
There are at least two types of Gitmo-related analyses the administration is dragging its feet on.
First, the senators apparently want intelligence assessments of individual detainees and the threat each one poses. It is reasonable to infer that their concerns involve detainees on the docket to be transferred. “We've received redacted reports, and that's not sufficient,” Bond explained. Bond is reportedly concerned about one unnamed detainee in particular. “We shouldn't release another person who wants to kill Americans, out of Guantanamo,” Senator Coburn said on Tuesday.
The Obama administration has approved many of the remaining detainees for transfer to either their home countries or third party countries.
Despite the fact that they have been “approved for transfer,” the Obama administration doesn’t consider them to be non-threats. The Guantanamo Review Task Force made this clear in its final report. “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 explained.
The Task Force also explained that the word transfer “is used to mean release from confinement subject to appropriate security measures.” The problem is that host countries have consistently proven incapable of preventing transferred detainees from returning to terrorism. For example, the Obama administration transferred Abdul Hafiz, a Gitmo detainee who was implicated in the murder of a Red Cross worker, to Afghanistan in December 2009. Within weeks, he rejoined the Taliban.
Therefore, Coburn and Bond have good reasons for their desire to see the full intelligence assessments on Gitmo detainees slated for transfer.
The second type of analysis is an overall assessment of Gitmo recidivism. It doesn’t appear that the senators blocking a vote on Clapper’s nomination are trying to get this report, but it does put the individual threat assessments they are seeking into perspective.
The first unclassified assessment of Gitmo recidivism was released to the public by the Bush administration in June 2008. At the time, there were 37 confirmed or suspected recidivists. Seven months later, in January 2009, 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 found that same metric had risen further, to 74 percent – exactly double the Pentagon's estimate just 11 months before.
Then, in January of this year, the number of recidivists had climbed even higher. The Obama administration confirmed that the recidivism rate had risen to 20 percent, which yields an estimated 112 confirmed or suspected recidivists.
The Obama administration has released only one assessment on Gitmo recidivism, and that analysis was leaked to the NewYork Times first. It has been more than one year since then.
Sources on the Hill tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the Gitmo recidivism study is updated frequently. There is no reason that the Obama administration couldn’t release a new declassified version. It has simply chosen not to do so.
Will Coburn and Bond receive their briefings, as Sen. McCain did? Or will the administration continue to stonewall?
And will the public get to see an updated analysis on Gitmo recidivism any time soon?
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.