How many of the 88 Guantanamo detainees who President Barack Obama has released from the detention facility have since engaged in terrorism?
Not many, according to the latest Guantanamo recidivism report [summary pdf below] released September 5 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
ODNI says that six of the 88 detainees who were released from Guantanamo since Obama took office in 2009 were confirmed of re-engaging. That's one more than there were when the agency filed its last report in March.
The new report also says that one of the 88 detainees is suspected of re-engaging. It's almost certain that one of the additional former detainees in question is Moazzam Begg, who was arrested in Britain in February and accused by law enforcement authorities there of engaging in terrorism-related offenses — including a visit to a terrorist training camp — connected with trips he made to Syria. It's unclear, however, whether Begg would be the detainee who falls into ODNI's suspected of re-engaging category, or the additional detainee listed in the confirmed of re-engaging category.
The agency does not identify the detainees in question, nor does it provide details about the activities they are alleged to have engaged in. 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 confirmed 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."
While Obama has promised to shutter Guantanamo and repatriate or transfer cleared detainees, he has been slow to follow through on his promises.
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.
At its peak, Guantanamo held 779 prisoners. Under President George W. Bush's tenure, 532 detainees were released from the detention facility. Of those, 101 — or 19 percent — were confirmed to have re-engaged. (ODNI reports that 23 of the 101 are dead and 25 are back in custody.) Another 76, or 14.3 percent, were suspected of re-engagement.
A report last March in the Christian Science Monitor noted that the recidivism rate at Guantanamo is far lower than the US prison recidivism rate, which is more than 60 percent. But the ODNI statistics can be manipulated — and have been repeatedly in attacks by partisan lawmakers.
"The recidivism rate is nearly 29 percent and has been climbing steadily since detainees began being released from Guantanamo," Senator Saxby Chambliss said last November during a congressional debate about whether to loosen restrictions to make it easier for Obama to release cleared detainees. "This includes nearly 10 percent of detainees who have returned to the fight after being transferred by the current administration following the administration's extensive review of each detainee."
As the Washington Post pointed out, Chambliss manipulated the numbers by adding together the suspected of re-engaging and confirmed of re-engaging numbers and averaging the two to get 29 percent.
While Obama has promised to shutter Guantanamo and repatriate or transfer cleared detainees, he has been slow to follow through on his promises. The administration continues to blame congressional restrictions over the use of funds to transfer detainees.
Raha Wala, the senior counsel with Human Rights First's Law & Security Program, said that while progress on closing Guantanamo has been "disappointingly slow, there has been real progress nonetheless, and the Obama administration can, with enough focus and commitment, close Guantanamo by the end of the President's second term."
More than half of the remaining 149 prisoners at Guantanamo are cleared for transfer.
Obama's efforts likely became much more difficult after the bipartisan research arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), concluded last month that the transfer of five Taliban Guantanamo detainees in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner of war, cost nearly $1 million and was illegal.
House Republicans are responding to the GAO's report by scheduling hearings and vowing to further restrict the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo.
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold