On February 2, a Department of Defense spokesman told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that a Pentagon report documenting the recidivism of some former Guantanamo detainees would be released imminently. The report was coming so soon that we were told to check defenselink.mil for it that afternoon.
Today, the New York Times, which has obtained a copy of the report, says that two administration officials claim it was squashed for political reasons.
Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the report was being held up by Defense Department employees fearful of upsetting the White House, at a time when even Congressional Democrats have begun to show misgivings over Mr. Obama's plan to close Guantánamo. (emphasis added)
What other reason could there be for the report's delay? The Times cites a DOD spokesman as saying that it is still "under review." It is now May 20. We were told that the report was coming soon on February 2. Other news organizations, including Newsweek and the Times, expected the report to be released in late January.
Has it really taken the Pentagon almost four months to review the contents of the report? Washington bureaucracies are notoriously slow, but that seems just a tad bit too slow, even by Washington's standards.
Another anonymous official cited by the Times says that the DOD is damned if it does, and damned it if doesn't. That is, if DOD releases the report, then it is seen as undermining the Obama administration and its attempts to close Gitmo. If the DOD does not release the report, then it is seen as "protecting the Obama administration."
But the contents of the report deal with a hotly contested issue--one that is being debated throughout the media and is not going away any time soon. Therefore, the public has a right to know the facts and evidence accumulated by the DOD regardless of the implications for the Obama administration.
This is especially true because the Pentagon had previously released a similar report on June 13, 2008. The report we've been expecting since earlier this year, and which only the New York Times now has a copy, is merely an update of that June 2008 report, which is freely available online. There is no good reason the updated report, as well as further updates, cannot be released in a similar fashion.
Indeed, the differences between the June 2008 report and its successors are especially troubling. Perhaps those differences explain why an updated version of the June 2008 report would be especially problematic for the Obama administration as it attempts to close Gitmo.
The June 13, 2008, report noted 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. Now, according to the Times, the DOD has found that same metric has risen further to 74--exactly double the Pentagon's estimate just 11 months ago.
At that rate, the Pentagon is identifying, on average, more than 3 former Gitmo detainees who are thought to have returned to terrorism each month.
That does not bode well.
Critics point out that even with 74 recidivists the total number of former detainees who have returned to terrorism is "only" 14 percent of the 534 total detainees who have been released from Guantanamo. But this ignores the fact, as explained above, that the recidivism rate is continuously increasing.
Moreover, the U.S. government does not have perfect information on former detainees. It is not clear what many former detainees, up and beyond those identified as likely recidivists, are doing. The number of current recidivists could easily be higher. And this does not even count the former detainees who aid our terrorist enemies' propaganda efforts by making up tales, which are often repeated by eager media outlets, about their time in U.S. custody and America's supposed evils.
It also takes time for former detainees to rejoin the terror network. So, it is quite possible that some of the detainees who were released in, say, the past two years, and have not gone back to terrorism yet, could sometime in the near future.
The Times says that the latest report names only 29 of the 74 alleged recidivists. The other 45 former detainees are not named. With respect to the June 2008 report, critics complained that the DOD did not provide evidence for each alleged recidivist. Some of this evidence is likely sensitive, but the DOD should do its best to release as much of it as possible. The Times takes the critics' complaint a step further, claiming "only a few of the 29 people who are identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release."
But that is not true. Earlier this year, for example, the Saudis placed 11 former Gitmo detainees on its most wanted list. One of these former detainees has since turned himself in and admitted that he had, in fact, rejoined al Qaeda's ranks. We can be reasonably sure that the other 10 former detainees on the Saudi list are up to no good as well. It was a major embarrassment for the Saudis to admit that their rehabilitation program was not as effective as previously claimed. And one of these 10 detainees has assumed a leadership position in al Qaeda's arm on the Arabian Peninsula. We know this because he has taunted us in an al Qaeda propaganda video.
It would be surprising if most, if not all, of the 11 former detainees on the Saudi list were not also on the DOD's list.
Other former detainees who have rejoined the fight are easy to identify as well. One former detainee, Abdullah al Ajmi, blew himself up in Mosul, Iraq. Another, who became a Taliban commander upon release, blew himself up in Pakistan in order to avoid recapture. Still others have been convicted by foreign courts of plotting terror after their release.
You get the point--there are plenty of publicly available examples.
But the public deserves to see the Pentagon's latest report, as well as regular updates.
It is now clear that the Pentagon believes former Guantanamo detainees are rejoining the fight virtually every month.