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More Former Gitmo Detainees Are Suspected of Fighting Again — And More Got Killed

The latest report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on so-called Guantanamo recidivists showed four former detainees have been killed since March.
Photo by Jason Leopold/VICE News

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Thursday released its latest report on so-called Guantanamo recidivists — detainees who the intelligence community claims are confirmed of re-engaging in terrorist activity after being released from the detention facility. The new report was released on the same day that the Pentagon traveled to the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina to survey the prison facility and determine whether it could house dozens of Guantanamo detainees who the Obama administration wants to transfer to the United States for indefinite detention.


According to ODNI's latest report, of the 653 detainees that have been transferred by both the Bush and Obama administrations, 117 of the former captives have reengaged in terrorism. The report says that as of July 15 the Obama administration had transferred 121 detainees since he was sworn into office in 2009; six of the 121 have been confirmed of re-engaging in terrorism, a number that has not changed since ODNI released its last report in March.

Related: More Former Gitmo Detainees 'Return to the Fight,' and More Are Killed By the US

However, four additional former detainees released by the Bush administration were killed since the release of the last recidivism report, bringing the total to 29.

There was also an increase in the number of detainees suspected of re-engaging in terrorism. ODNI's report says that six former detainees released by the Obama administration were added to the list of possible recidivists, five of them since the agency released its last report. An additional five detainees released during George W. Bush's presidency were added to the list of suspected recidivists. Six detainees released by the Bush administration who were suspected of reengagement were captured since the last report.

By law, ODNI has to submit an unclassified report to Congress biannually about the status of former Guantanamo detainees suspected of re-engagement. The report is prepared by ODNI based on discussions between the Directors of National Intelligence and the CIA and the Secretary of Defense. Some members of Congress have seized on the recidivism figures in the past to argue that Guantanamo should remain open.


Last week,in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, US representatives Pat Roberts and Tim Scott, who represent Kansas and South Carolina respectively, two states that are in the running to house detainees at military prisons located at Fort Leavenworth and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston. said closing Guantanamo and transferring detainees to the US "puts the well-being of states in danger," poses "security risks to the public" and is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The White House is expected to deliver its plan to Congress outlining how it plans to shutter the detention facility in the weeks ahead.

Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First who works on Guantanamo issues, told VICE News that it's important to note that the "vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo, including those who were transferred, were never picked up on the battlefield, have never engaged in hostilities with American soldiers and have never been accused of any crimes."

Still, "less than five percent of detainees transferred [by the Obama administration] are confirmed of engaging in terrorist or insurgent activity," Wala said. "That's a far cry from the misleading recidivism statistics from members of Congress who are trying to fear monger on Guantanamo and paint an untrue story of Guantanamo detainees who have never been charged with a crime."

The nonpartisan Constitution Project said ODNI's Guantanamo recidivism numbers "should not necessarily be taken at face value."


"Studies by nongovernmental organizations have concluded that the reengagement rate is much lower than [ODNI] claims, and academics have found problems with [ODNI's] data that serve to inflate its numbers," the group said in prepared statement. "But if [ODNI's] statistics are used, they should at least be interpreted correctly. And if the purpose is to gauge the likelihood that a detainee transferred from Guantanamo now will subsequently engage in terrorism, then the most accurate reengagement rate [under Obama] is 4.9%."

ODNI does not identify the detainees it confirms or suspects of being recidivists, nor does it provide details about the activities in which they are alleged to have engaged. The report defines "terrorist" or "insurgent" activities as "planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against Coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, and arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations."

In its recidivism report, ODNI defines confirmation of re-engaging as, "A preponderance of information which identifies a specific former GTMO detainee as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities. For the purposes of this definition, engagement in anti-US statements or propaganda does not qualify as terrorist or insurgent activity."


ODNI's basis for suspicions involve "plausible but unverified or single-source reporting indicating a specific former GTMO detainee is directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities."

The report notes that making statements or writing books critical of the US government and its foreign policy do not qualify as terrorist or insurgent activity in either category.

It goes on to say that based on "trends" over the past 11 years, "some detainees currently at [Guantanamo] will seek to reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities after they are transferred."

"While enforcement of transfer conditions may deter re-engagement by many former detainees and delay re-engagement by others, some detainees who are determined to re-engage will do so regardless of any transfer conditions, albeit probably at a lower rate than if they were transferred without conditions," the report said.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold