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Guantanamo Recidivism Rate Climbs Higher

2:09 PM, Sep 14, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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During a joint hearing of the Senate and House intelligence committees yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that the recidivism rate for former Guantanamo detainees has risen to an estimated 27 percent. The total number of “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists, according to Clapper, is now 161.

Gitmo detainees take a walk in the exercise yard.

Gitmo detainees take a walk in the exercise yard.

The latest assessment is higher than the previous one offered by the DNI in December 2010. At the time, the DNI estimated that the recidivism rate was 25 percent, and included 150 “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists. 

According to the DNI’s December 2010 report, confirmed cases are those in which a “preponderance of information” identifies “a specific former GTMO detainee as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.” In suspected recidivism cases, “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” indicates “a specific former GTMO detainee is directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.” Engaging in anti-U.S. “statements or propaganda does not qualify as terrorist or insurgent activity” in either confirmed or suspected cases. 

The U.S. government’s estimate of the number of ex-Guantanamo detainees who have returned to jihad has steadily increased over time.  

In June 2008, the Defense Department reported that 37 former detainees were “confirmed or suspected” recidivists. On January 13, 2009—seven months later—Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that number had climbed to 61. By May 2009, when a recidivism assessment was leaked to the New York Times (the report was based on information available as of mid-March 2009), the Defense Department had found that same metric had risen further to 74—exactly double the Pentagon's estimate just 11 months before.

The Obama administration confirmed in February 2010 that the recidivism rate was then 20 percent, meaning that more than 100 former Guantanamo detainees were either “confirmed” or “suspected” recidivists at the time. By December 2010, the number had climbed even higher—to 150 former detainees. And now, that estimate has risen again—to 161 ex-Guantanamo detainees.

“Many of them have been taken off the battlefield through kinetic encounters,” Clapper explained, with respect to the recidivists.

One of these “kinetic encounters” occurred earlier this month, when Afghan and coalition security forces killed a former Guantanamo detainee named Sabar Lal Melma and captured another ex-Guantanamo detainee during a raid in Afghanistan. Melma, according to an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press release, was “a key affiliate of the al Qaeda network” and “responsible for attacks and financing insurgent operations in the Pech district, Kunar province.”

Melma was also “in contact with several senior al Qaeda members throughout Kunar and Pakistan.”

As of December 2010, most of the recidivists remained at large. The DNI reported that 13 were dead, 54 were “in custody,” and an additional 83 remained “at large.” The current breakdown of killed/captured versus at large recidivists is not publicly available.

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

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