Press reports indicate that the latest Pentagon assessment of recidivists who were once held at Guantanamo “shows about one in five detainees released” have returned to terrorism. That, of course, is a recidivism rate of “about” 20 percent. Although these same press accounts do not note the total number of recidivists, it has been noted that “more than 560 detainees” have been released. These same two elements (recidivism rate and approximate number of detainees transferred/released) appeared in the last DoD recidivist study released to the public. Putting them together we get 20% * 560 former detainees = an estimated 112 recidivists.
How does this figure compare to previous estimates? It is a huge increase.
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.
If my inferential reading is correct, then the number of “confirmed or suspected” former detainees who have returned to terrorism is now about 112. It has been less than 10 months since the DoD found that same figure was 74. This would mean that 38 more recidivists have been added to the list in less than 10 months. At that rate, the DoD is finding about 4 more recidivists every month.
Put another way, the DoD had pegged the recidivism rate at 14 percent of the total number of former detainees as of mid-March 2009. Today, (again, less than 10 months later) that number is reportedly 20 percent.
Now, there is virtually a whole cottage industry devoted to questioning or explaining away the DoD’s findings. But the study is an intelligence product -- it is not gospel. Therefore, it comes with all of the vagaries that intelligence products do. And the DoD itself is careful to note that, based on the available intelligence, it splits the detainees into two categories: “confirmed or suspected.” The number of former detainees in the “confirmed” category, which requires a more robust evidentiary standard, tends to be less than the “suspected” category. Citing national security concerns, the DoD also has not listed all of the names of former detainees it has categorized as recidivists, whether they be “confirmed” or “suspected.” All of this has prompted various criticisms.
I’ll have more to say about these criticisms, and more, in future posts. But for now, suffice it to say that it is getting more and more difficult for the critics to claim that the number of recidivists isn’t climbing dramatically. Publicly available information on Gitmo recidivists becomes available every month. (See, for example, here, here, here, here and here.)
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.