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The Number of Former Guantanamo Detainees Suspected of 'Returning to the Fight' Has Doubled

The latest twice-yearly US government report tracking former Guantanamo detainees found that an additional six are suspected of engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities.
Photo by Jason Leopold/VICE News

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Monday released its latest biannual report on Guantanamo recidivists — detainees who the intelligence community says are confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activity after being released from the detention facility.

The new report says that as of January 15, 2016 the number of Guantanamo detainees released by the Obama administration suspected of re-engaging has doubled from six to 12 since the last recidivism report was released six months ago. A footnote to the report says, however, that the Defense Intelligence Agency "assesses five additional detainees are suspected of re-engagement." The report goes on to say the number of detainees who have been confirmed of re-engaging has increased by one and now stands at seven of 144 detainees released during Obama's tenure; and the number of detainees suspected of and confirmed of re-engagement who were killed has increased by three. The report also says one former detainee transferred under the Bush administration was newly suspected of re-engagement.


The overall number of detainees released by the Obama administration who are confirmed to be recidivists remains below 5 percent.

The detainee who was confirmed of re-engagement, according to an intelligence official, is Ibrahim al-Qosi, Osama bin Laden's former cook and driver, who was released to Sudan in July 2012 and is now a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. He recently popped up in an AQAP propaganda video promoting jihad in West Africa.

Al-Qosi sent a message to fighters in Somalia to "continue the raid with a raid, and light up the ground beneath the feet of the Crusaders and teach them that the lands of Islam are a fortress that is not allowed to the disbelievers, and a graveyard for the invaders…. Victory is brought by blood and suffering, not by promises and wishes from every libertine," according to a translation of his remarks by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Al-Qosi was captured in 2001 and was deemed by intelligence officials to be a "high-risk" detainee. He was released after he pleaded guilty in 2010 to war crimes charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism. Originally sentenced to 14 years, it was reduced to two years because he cooperated with military officials.

Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First, told VICE News the news recidivism numbers "show what we we have known for some time: the process for clearing and transferring detainees is painstakingly careful and thorough."


The new recidivism report was released just two weeks after President Barack Obama delivered a long-awaited Guantanamo closure plan to Congress that calls for the transfer of the remaining detainees to a US detention facility operated by the Department of Defense. A senior administration official told VICE News that the White House believes it can transfer all 36 of the 91 detainees who have been cleared for release or transfer by the summer.

"The administration needs to step up and accelerate the process of clearing and transferring detainees if Gitmo is going to be closed before the president leaves office," Wala said.

Republican lawmakers who are vehemently opposed to the administration's closure efforts will likely seize upon the new recidivism statistics as evidence of why Guantanamo should remain open, and why the detainees who have been cleared for transfer should continue to be detained.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that while Congress will review the closure plan, it will not attract any support from lawmakers.

"President Obama seems to remain captured on one matter by a campaign promise he made way back in 2008 — his ill-considered crusade to close the secure detention facility at Guantanamo," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "Congress acted over and over again in a bipartisan way to reject the president's desire to transfer dangerous terrorists to communities here in the United States…. So we'll review President Obama's plan, but since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in US communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal."


Last month, Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation–The Terrorist Release Transparency Act–that would force Obama to publicly disclose more information about detainees slated for transfer from Guantanamo before they are moved and the ability by host countries to prevent recidivism. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate.

"This legislation will bring much needed public scrutiny to the administration's mad rush to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay before President Obama leaves office," Royce said in a statement.

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.

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," the report said, "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."

Several years ago, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, revealed that the vast majority of detainees held at Guantanamo never stepped foot on a battlefield. In a sworn declaration, he said that "many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all." He also said that American forces had relied on Afghans and Pakistanis to turn over prisoners, many of whom had been turned over for bounties amounting to as much as $5,000 each.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold