Guantánamo and Recidivism: New Report Debunks Government’s Inflated Claims

On Monday, the Center for Policy and Research at Seton Hall University School of Law in New Jersey released a new report, “National Security Deserves Better: ‘Odd’ Recidivism Numbers Undermine the Guantánamo Policy Debate” (PDF), which analyzes the fundamental problems with the claims made by the Pentagon and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) regarding the numbers of alleged “recidivists” freed from Guantánamo — in other words, those who, in the words of the DNI, have been involved in “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.”

As I have been explaining since May 2009, when the New York Times published a misleading front-page story claiming that 1 in 7 released prisoners had engaged in recidivism, there have been two main problems with the recidivism claims: firstly, that, over the last three years, little effort has been made to distinguish between “confirmed” and “suspected” cases of recidivism; and secondly that, as the claims became more outrageous in 2010 and 2011, with completely unsubstantiated allegations that 1 in 5 of the released prisoners were recidivists, and then 1 in 4, the mainstream media unquestioningly repeated these claims, even though they were not backed up with even a shred of evidence.

Last month, in my article, “Guantánamo and Recidivism: The Media’s Ongoing Failure to Question Official Statistics,” I challenged the latest claims made by the DNI — that 27.9 percent of the prisoners released from Guantánamo were recidivists — by noting that although the DNI claimed that 95 (15.9%) were described as “Confirmed of Reengaging,” and 72 others (12%) were described as “Suspected of Reengaging,” the lack of evidence for these claims was deeply troubling. Read the rest of this entry »

Life after Guantánamo Bay: Jenifer Fenton Talks to Kuwaiti Ex-Prisoners for Al-Jazeera

Last month, I was invited to visit Kuwait to try and help raise awareness of the need for the Kuwaiti people to push for their government to demand the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaitis — out of 12 in total — to be held in Guantánamo. These two men are Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and, like dozens of the 171 men still at Guantánamo, they are held, possibly with the intention that they will be held for the rest of their lives, not because there is any evidence that either of them ever raised arms against US forces or were involved in any way with any acts of international terrorism, but because of institutional cowardice within the Obama administration, and because of fearmongering in Congress, in the mainstream media and in a particular court of appeals in Washington D.C.

That court is the D.C. Circuit Court, where a number of prominent judges have whittled away at the habeas corpus rights that the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008 (and which led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011), gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, by demanding that the government’s supposed evidence be given the presumption of accuracy, even though it has been well established (in the 38 cases won by the prisoners, for example), that the supposed evidence is an unreliable mix of statements and confessions made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, in circumstances where torture, coercion and even bribery were widely used by the interrogators, and of post-capture reports, compiled by US personnel in situations whereby the prisoners were actually seized by Afghan or Pakistani forces, at a time when generous bounty payments were being offered for anyone who could be dressed up as an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

I wrote about my visit to Kuwait here and here, and posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for the two Kuwaitis, and I have since followed up with profiles of the two men on the “Close Guantánamo” website (written by Tom, his colleague Neil Koslowe and myself). My visit was organized by Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, who was put forward for a trial by military commission in November 2008, just before George W. Bush left office, and who, absurdly, remains a candidate for a trial by military commission, even though nothing that could objectively be called evidence exists in his case. I also met other members of Lt. Col. Wingard’s team, Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project, and the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah, with whom I had lunch. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Three of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will hopefully be completed later this year, although that is contingent on finding new funding.

This is Part 33 of the 70-part series. 411 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April last year, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo and Recidivism: The Media’s Ongoing Failure to Question Official Statistics

Last week, the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Director of the CIA and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, issued a two-page unclassified summary, entitled, “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba” (PDF), which provided information about the purported “recidivism” of former prisoners.

According to the summary, of the 599 prisoners released from Guantánamo, 95 (15.9%) are described as “Confirmed of Reengaging,” and 72 others (12%) are described as “Suspected of Reengaging.” However, in the mainstream media, little distinction was made between the “confirmed” and “suspected” figures. Reuters’ headline, for example, was “Recidivism rises among released Guantánamo detainees,” which was typical. In seeking to justify it, Reuters’ reporter stated, “The figures represent a 2.9 percent rise over a 25 percent aggregate recidivism rate reported by the intelligence czar’s office in December 2010.”

In terms of statistics, this was accurate, as the DNI report in December 2010 (PDF) contained an assessment that 81 former prisoners (13.5 percent) were “confirmed” and 69 (11.5 percent) “suspected” of “reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.” However, as has been the case since “reports” like these first began to be published, under the Bush administration (see this 2009 Seton Hall Law School report — PDF), the mainstream media has persistently refused to demand that the statistics be backed up with evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Guantánamo, New York Times Examines How Federal Prisons Deal with Terrorists

As the debate over the dreadful detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act has demonstrated, when lawmakers, unprovoked, have unilaterally decided that what America needs is mandatory military custody for terror suspects (with the intention of holding people for life without charge or trial), something has gone horribly wrong, and a rational perspective on the success of federal court trials in prosecuting terror suspects has been shamefully discarded.

Above all, this is a sign of how lawmakers — Democrats as well as Republicans — have politicized terrorism, in their obsession with regarding terrorists not as criminals, but as “warriors” in a “war on terror” which they do not wish to end, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden this year, and despite the almost total eradication of al-Qaeda as an entity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In this absurd climate, lawmakers are shunning federal court trials for terror suspects, even though they have a successful track record, and even though, by any objective measure, that success has been purchased at a distinctly dubious cost  — including a lamentable history of entrapment since 9/11, and the fact that the rules regarding material support for terrorism are so broadly drawn that prisoners are receiving punitive sentences for almost nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

Terrorists as Warriors: The Fatal Confusion at the Heart of the “War on Terror”

Last week, when the Senate voted, by 93 votes to 7, to pass the latest National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), they passed legislation that not only approved a budget of $662 billion in military spending for the next fiscal year, but also demanded mandatory military custody for all terror suspects seized in future.

The military custody provisions were conceived, in a secretive manner, by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which also updated previous provisions preventing the closure of Guantánamo. This was achieved through two measures: banning the use of funds to purchase or adapt any other prison to hold the 82 prisoners that the Obama administration has said it wants to hold (for trial or indefinite detention), and imposing conditions on the transfer of any of the other 89 prisoners that the administration does not want to hold.

These designations were made through the careful deliberations of the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, which included career officials and lawyers not only from various government departments, but also from the intelligence agencies. However, while critics on the left and the right have long criticized any plan to move prisoners from Guantánamo to the US mainland, Congressional restrictions on releasing prisoners have become progressively more onerous over the last two years, since lawmakers first voted to prevent Guantánamo prisoners from being brought to the US mainland for any reason, except to face a trial. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Two of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in spring 2012.

This is Part 32 of the 70-part series. 399 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part One of Ten)

Please support my work!

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in spring 2012.

This is Part 31 of the 70-part series. 386 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared for Release But Still Held

Last week, Guantánamo briefly resurfaced in the news when one of the remaining 171 prisoners, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned for his planned trial by Military Commission, for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Al-Nashiri’s trial will not begin for a least a year, and his fleeting appearance was not sufficient to keep attention focused on Guantánamo, especially as the 24-hour news cycle — and people’s addiction to it — now barely allows stories to survive for a day before they are swept aside for the latest breaking news.

As a result, the opportunity to ask bigger questions, such as, “Who is still at Guantánamo?” and “Why are they still held?” was largely missed. These are topics I have been discussing all year, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media, so it was refreshing, last week, to see Peter Finn in the Washington Post address these questions.

In “Guantánamo detainees cleared for release but left in limbo,” Finn, with assistance from Julie Tate, began by revisiting the final report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, the 60 or so officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies who reviewed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009, and who, as Finn noted, cleared 126 prisoners for transfer out of Guantánamo (PDF) — and also recommended 36 for trials, and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Eight of Ten)

Please support my work!

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 28 of the 70-part series. 348 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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