The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight


January 10, 2010

According to the Department of Defense, many of the captives released from the U.S. prison on Guantánamo Bay “return” to extremist activity — and the rate is increasing. This is from the LA Times story of January 7:

A new report estimates that one-fifth of the detainees who have been released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have resumed extremist activity, a Defense Department official said Wednesday, a figure that intensifies the debate over the prison.

The Pentagon report on the released detainees remains classified and officials refused to discuss it publicly. But Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledged the numbers had risen since April, when the department said about 74 former detainees — about 14% of those released — had returned to hostile action against the United States.

Readers might recall that President Obama promised nearly one year ago to close the prison within a year.

Dan Froomkin has a thorough takedown of the Pentagon study and I’d encourage everyone to read it. Note that most of his arguments are based on the work of Seton Hall researchers directed by Law Professor Mark Denbeaux. The Seton Hall team has repeatedly debunked DoD claims about Guantánamo and effectively spanked the media for reporting on the official claims without some degree of journalistic skepticism.

So, what’s wrong with the Pentagon reports and claims?

  • The Pentagon refuses to provide names, making it virtually impossible for researchers to verify their claims.
  • By DoD’s definition, “returning to the fight” apparently includes detainees speaking out publicly against their incarceration at Gitmo.
  • Officials, if pressed, acknowledge they don’t really track former detainees, so their conclusions are largely speculative.
  • Most detaines cannot “return” to the battlefield since the arrested weren’t ever really combatants and were never charged with anything

Clearly, the Pentagon continues to signal that it’s not going to watch silently as the President’s team works to close the Guantánamo prison. They’re obviously picking a political fight and domestic political allies in Congress will help them — remember the silly NIMBY debate about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? What Froomkin suggests is that a malleable media with a poor short-term memory will help them.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.