Politico falsely reported that 61 former Guantánamo detainees "have been found to have returned to terrorism"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

The Politico falsely reported: "The Pentagon said earlier this month that 61 former Guantanamo inmates, out of the more than 700 who had been held at the facility, have been found to have returned to terrorism." In fact, the Pentagon has acknowledged that its figure of 61 detainees includes 43 former prisoners who are only suspected of, but have not been confirmed as having "returned to terrorism." Moreover, even the Pentagon's claim that it has confirmed that 18 former Guantánamo detainees have "return[ed] to the fight" has been questioned by experts.

A February 5 Politico article about Democratic reaction to former Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comments concerning President Obama's executive order closing the Guantánamo Bay prison within a year falsely reported: "The Pentagon said earlier this month that 61 former Guantanamo inmates, out of the more than 700 who had been held at the facility, have been found to have returned to terrorism, up from 37 in March." In fact, the Pentagon has acknowledged that its figure of 61 detainees includes 43 former prisoners who are only suspected of, but have not been confirmed as having "returned to terrorism." As Media Matters for America noted, during a January 13 press conference, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell stated: "The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight. So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight."

Moreover, even the Pentagon's claim that it has confirmed that 18 former Guantánamo detainees have "return[ed] to the fight" has been questioned by experts. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen stated on the January 23 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 that "returning to the fight, in Pentagon terms, could be engaging in anti-American propaganda, something that's not entirely surprising if you have been locked up in a prison camp for several years without charge." Bergen further stated: "[W]hen you really boil it down, the actual number of people whose names we know are about eight out of the 520 that have been released [from Guantánamo], so a little above 1 percent, that we can actually say with certainty have engaged in anti-American terrorism or insurgence activities since they have been released. ... If the Pentagon releases more information about specific people, I think it would be possible to -- to potentially agree with them. But, right now, that information isn't out there."

Additionally, as Media Matters has noted, Seton Hall University School of Law professor Mark Denbeaux -- who has written several reports about Guantánamo detainees, including some challenging the Pentagon's definition of "battlefield" capture and published detainee recidivism rates -- has disputed the Pentagon's figures, asserting: "[The Defense Department's most recent] attempt to enumerate the number of detainees who have returned to the battlefield is false by the Department of Defense's own data and prior reports."

From the February 5 Politico article headlined, "Dems angered by Cheney warnings":

Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official at the National Security Council, has taken issue with the claim -- repeated by Cheney -- that holding hardened terrorists on U.S. soil is too dangerous.

"Convicted terrorists have for some time resided at Supermax," the nickname for the maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colo., Mr. Clarke argued. He added that the U.S. Justice Department has a long record of arresting terrorists overseas and successfully prosecuting them in American courts.

But that argument does not address what to do with the remaining 245 inmates at Guantanamo, some of whom are considered the most dangerous prisoners the U.S. holds. Cheney called them "the hard core."

Obama issued an executive order shortly after taking office that calls for closing Guantanamo within a year. But that will require sending as many as possible to other countries and figuring out another place to hold those who cannot be transferred. Even Obama administration officials admit this is a problem they have not yet solved.

The Pentagon said earlier this month that 61 former Guantanamo inmates, out of the more than 700 who had been held at the facility, have been found to have returned to terrorism, up from 37 in March. If more of the remaining detainees are released, Cheney contended that the recidivism rate would be "much higher."

But several experts noted that Obama is not talking about releasing any of the most dangerous Al Qaeda members at the prison, including several involved in the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks. With a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president, new legislation and other steps can be taken in the next year to ensure the worse prisoners are tried and held, they said.

"Yes, closing Guantanamo is going to be hard, but I think the year framework is realistic," said Harman. She added that most of the cases could be resolved in either U.S civilian or military courts and the remaining cases might require legislation establishing special procedures for trying and holding the prisoners.

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