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

A biannual report has found that nine former detainees, all of whom were released during the Bush administration, have 're-engaged' since July.

by Jason Leopold
Mar 5 2015, 6:05pm

Photo by Jason Leopold/VICE News

There has been a 1 percent increase in the number of former Guantanamo detainees who have "returned to the fight" since July, according to a new recidivism report released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

But there's also an uptick in the number of former detainees who have been killed by the US as a result of their decision to return to the battlefield, the new report says.

The men who returned to the fight were part of the 532 detainees who were released during the Bush administration. There has not been any change in the Guantanamo recidivism rates of the detainees repatriated under Obama since ODNI released its previous report last September. That report covered a timeframe that ended July 15, 2014. Of the 115 detainees released by the Obama administration since January 22, 2009, a total of six, or 5.2 percent, have been confirmed of re-engaging in terrorist activity. One former detainee is suspected of re-engagement. 

By law, ODNI has to submit an unclassified report to Congress biannually about the status of former Guantanamo detainees suspected of re-engagement. According to the new figures, as of January 15, nine additional detainees have been confirmed of re-engaging in terrorist activities and eight additional detainees are suspected of re-engaging.

The report says that two detainees who were confirmed of re-engagement have been killed since last July, two more detainees have been captured, and nine more have been added to the "not in custody" list. That represents a 20.7 percent recidivism rate, a 1.7 percent increase since last July. All of those detainees were released prior to January 2009.

The number of detainees who ODNI says are suspected of "returning to the fight" has decreased from 76 to 68; those eight detainees have likely been transferred to the "confirmed" category. As a result, the "suspected" recidivism rate has now decreased from 14.3 percent to 12.8 percent.

A table from the ODNI report

According to the report, drafted by ODNI following discussions with the director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, "the numbers represent the consensus view of the Intelligence Community with one exception; as of the March 2015 release, one agency judges that one additional detainee is suspected of reengagement. That detainee's status will be continually evaluated and may be reflected in future reports, depending on the information available and the views within the Intelligence Community at that time."

UPDATE 3/6/2015: Reuters reported, citing anonymous government officials, that the former Guantanamo detainee in question is one of the Taliban Five who was traded last year for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by militants in Afghanistan for five years. The Taliban Five were transferred to the custody of the government of Qatar. 

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. But recent reports indicated a detainee released from Guantanamo in 2007 was killed in a drone strike. The detainee, Abdul Rauf, was accused of being a recruiter for the Islamic State in Afghanistan. The other detainee was identified by journalist Iona Craig as Saudi national Said Ali al-Shihri, the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2013.  

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.

Since last November, the Obama administration has transferred 27 Guantanamo detainees to nine different countries. Of the 122 detainees who continue to be held captive, 55 have been cleared for release. But lawmakers are determined to put an end to any additional transfers.

In January, four Republican senators — Kelly Ayotte, Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Richard Burr — unveiled the Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015, legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees who the military deemed to be of medium and high risks at the time of their capture, effectively scuttling President Barack Obama's goal of shuttering Guantanamo before he leaves office. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the bill, and it was added to the full Senate legislative calendar last week. The White House said Obama would veto the legislation if it crosses his desk.

"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," ODNI said.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold