Conservatives Use False Claims to Justify New Gitmo Bill

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Conservatives Use False Claims to Justify New Gitmo Bill

Conservatives Use False Claims to Justify New Gitmo Bill

This week, as the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay enters its 13th year of operation, Senate conservatives proposed new legislation that would prevent the transfer of any of the remaining detainees for the next two years, stymieing progress towards its closure. The bill’s sponsors – Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – have said the bill is a response to concerns that repatriated detainees could turn to terrorism once released, but this fear is misplaced and based on inaccurate representations of the data on recidivism rates of former detainees. The much greater risk comes from allowing the detention facility to remain open. Politicians from both sides of the aisle – including President Obama, President George W. Bush, and also Sen. McCain – have all advocated for its closure, as have more than 50 retired flag officers. There are responsible ways to mitigate the threat of recidivism, but the legislation does not address the issue and instead effectively extends the operation of a facility that continues to damage U.S. alliances and threaten national security.

The expansive bill would halt all detainee transfers based on outdated, unreliable assessments of detainees. At a press conference on Tuesday, “Ayotte said that [the bill] covered the ‘vast majority’ of remaining detainees, though exact numbers were not provided,” Politico reported. But this is a mischaracterization of her own bill – the legislation would in fact cover all remaining detainees, including the 54 that have been cleared for release. As Adam Jacobson, a research and analysis associate at Human Rights First, wrote on Wednesday, “The bill would bar transfer of any Guantanamo detainee who ‘is currently or ever has been determined or assessed by Joint Task Force Guantanamo to be a high-risk or medium-risk threat to the United States, its interests, or its allies.’ This would effectively stop transfers of all detainees, based solely on outdated reports by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), some of which are deeply flawed, simplistic, and often more than a decade old. When the documents were released by Wikileaks in 2011, it became clear that much of the analysis was based on incomplete or inaccurate information, which resulted in sometimes bizarre conclusions in the threat classification of detainees. In these files, all of the current Guantanamo detainees were assessed by JTF-GTMO to be ‘high’ or ‘medium’ risk, with the exception of two, whose files were not published by Wikileaks.” Subsequent reviews found fault with these assessments, but, as Jacobson wrote, “The bill would ignore more recent, nuanced assessments in favor of outdated, unreliable ones made before 2010.” [Adam Jacobson, 1/14/15]

Conservatives’ concerns about recidivism are overstated and not supported by the data.Advocates of the bill, including Sen. John McCain, claim that “about 30 percent” of released Guantanamo detainees “have reentered the fight.” This is patently false and based on misrepresentations of data compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The 30% claim includes the 12% of released detainees who have met the minimum standard to be “suspected of reengaging” in terrorist or insurgent activities. It also includes the 63 released detainees that have been confirmed or suspected of reengaging that have died or been returned to custody – 34% of all of those confirmed or suspected. But even these statistics are misleading; they’re skewed by significantly higher recidivism rates under the Bush Administration, before President Obama ordered a review of remaining detainees in 2009. In fact, under President Obama only a very small number of released detainees have reengaged in terrorist activities, while over 93% have not done so. As Cliff Sloan, former State Department Envoy for Closing Guantanamo, explained earlier this month, “The percentage of detainees who were transferred after the Obama-era review and then found to have engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities is 6.8 percent. While we want that number to be zero, that small percentage does not justify holding in perpetuity the overwhelming majority of detainees, who do not subsequently engage in wrongdoing.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 9/5/14. Cliff Sloan via New York Times1/5/15]

Detainee transfers and releases are the end of a prudent and cautious process with strong controls against recidivism. “Demanding that all transfers from Guantanamo should be suspended because the remaining detainees are too dangerous to release is craven and irresponsible,” Wells Dixon, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told National Security Network in October. “More than half of the remaining men have been approved for transfer, which means that all of the relevant agencies with a stake in Guantanamo have determined unanimously that they pose no threat to the United States or its allies. It is also demonstrably false to claim that some of the men released in the last three years have ‘returned to the fight’ or joined ISIS. Only a small number of men have been released since January 2011, and all are accounted for, including those who remain in detention or whose travel has been restricted upon transfer, those who are monitored constantly by the security services, and those who simply continue to lead quiet, normal lives.” [Wells Dixon, 10/31/14]

Keeping Guantanamo open is damaging to U.S. relationships with allies and propaganda tool for terrorists, making it a persistent and unnecessary threat to U.S. national security. As Sloan wrote in the New York Times, “Americans from across the spectrum agree on closing Guantanamo. President George W. Bush called it ‘a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.’” He noted that “I have seen firsthand the way in which Guantánamo frays and damages vitally important security relationships with countries around the world.” That was echoed by Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert (Ret.), who was the first commander of the detention facility when it opened 13 years ago. “History continues to judge our decisions-decisions made when we were angry and frightened,” he wrote last Sunday for Politico. “Who we are as a nation cannot be separated from what we do. It is hard to overstate how damaging the continued existence of the detention facility at Guantanamo has been. Repressive governments use it to deflect criticism of their own policies by charging hypocrisy. Violent extremists use it as a recruiting tool. It is a symbol for many around the world of torture, injustice, and illegitimacy.” Lehnert concluded by saying that as long as the facility remains in operation, the United States is handing a victory to its enemies. “The goal of terrorists is to change us, to change what we say we stand for, and to make us live in fear,” he wrote. “As long as Guantanamo exists, terrorists can legitimately say that they have accomplished their objectives. It is time for America to stop living in fear and to defeat terrorism with our most powerful weapon: American values. It is time to close Guantanamo.” [Cliff Sloan via New York Times1/5/15. Michael Lehnert via Politico1/11/15]

Photo Credit: Department of Defense, 11/14/06.

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1.14.2015 Brian Katulis MSNBCPresident Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio Look on. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)