Donald Trump’s Latest Outrageous Guantánamo Lie


A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first three months of the Trump administration.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On the morning of March 7, Donald Trump tweeted an outrageous lie about Guantánamo — “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!”

That number, 122, was taken from a two-page “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in July 2016. The summaries are issued twice a year, and, crucially, what Trump neglected to mention is that 113 of the 122 men referred to in that summary were released under President Bush, and just nine were released under President Obama. In the latest ODNI summary, just released, the total has been reduced to 121, with just eight men released under President Obama.

This is a disgraceful lie to be circulated by the President of the United States, and it is depressing to note that it was liked by over 85,000 Twitter users, and that Trump apparently has no intention of withdrawing it.

It is also worth noting that, although the ODNI issues these summaries every six month, no evidence is provided to justify the claims, and other analysts believe that the figures are exaggerated. In 2013, for example, when the DNI had a figure of 16.1 percent of released prisoners as “confirmed” recidivists, the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. came up with a figure of just 4 percent.

This is not the first time that Donald Trump has provided misleading information about Guantánamo. On the campaign trail, he spoke about keeping Guantánamo open, and “load[ing] it up with some bad dudes,” misunderstanding quite who has been held at Guantánamo over the years, and under what circumstances (mostly, low-level soldiers and civilians, held, fundamentally, without any rights whatsoever, in defiance of domestic and international norms), and on January 3 he tweeted, “There should be no further releases from Guantánamo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield,” failing to recognize that those approved for release had had those decisions taken unanimously by representatives of major government departments and the intelligence agencies.

And then, in his first week in office, a leaked draft executive order was circulated, which contained another outrageous lie — that “[o]ver 30 percent of detainees released from Guantánamo have returned to armed conflict.” As I explained at the time, in this he was following the lead of much of the mainstream media, which, for years, had been adding up the figures in the ODNI reports that dealt with “confirmed” and “suspected” recidivists and publishing and publicizing them as though they were all “confirmed.”

However, even on this point Trump’s people couldn’t resist exaggerating. As I explained, in the DNI report from July 2016, the ODNI claimed that those “confirmed of reengaging” was 17.6%, while those “suspected of reengaging” was 12.4% — a total of 30%, not “[o]ver 30%.”

On March 8, the day after Trump’s lie, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, muddied the waters further, telling reporters that Trump “meant that the total number of people released from Gitmo was 122. Just to be clear, there’s a big difference: under the Bush administration, most of those were court ordered.”

Politico’s Josh Gerstein quoted verbatim Spicer’s confused efforts to defend his boss. “The Obama administration took great steps, they talked about — it was a campaign promise frankly from day one to close Gitmo,” he said, adding, “The reason the Bush administration did it was in many cases they were under court order … The Obama administration made it actually a priority to let people go and to actively desire to close that camp and to release more and more of those people especially in the waning days. There’s a huge contrast between the posture and the policy of the last two administrations on how they were dealing with Gitmo.”

In the first place, it is absolutely unfair to single out President Obama for having wanted to close Guantánamo, when, in George W. Bush’s second term, stung by unprecedented criticism at home and abroad, that was what he too intended to do. However, Spicer’s main mistake was to assert that “most” or even “many” of the releases under Bush “were court-ordered.”

Sabin Willett, who represented a number of prisoners at Guantánamo, and wrote a very powerful piece when the court of appeals in Washington, D.C. gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners in 2011, said, “That’s loony … That’s just flat out not true. You can count on one hand, and not even use all your fingers, the number of people a district court ordered released where that was not reversed on appeal.”

Although 28 men were approved for release by the courts between 2008 and 2010, after the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights (in June 2008), and the D.C. Circuit Court’s rewriting of the rules, which meant that, from July 2010, no more prisoners were able to get their habeas corpus petitions granted, and six additional successful habeas petitions were reversed or vacated, legal experts pointed out to Josh Gerstein that “no more than three of the 532 Guantánamo detainees transferred out under Bush were moved because they won a court challenge.”

Greg Craig, the White House Counsel in President Obama’s first year, who was “deeply involved in Obama’s early Guantánamo policy,” responded to Spicer’s claims by stating, “The truth is that Sean Spicer doesn’t know what he is talking about and doesn’t care enough to take the time to find out.”

David Remes, an attorney who has represented numerous Yemeni prisoners, told Gerstein, “It’s nonsense. There were cases where the rulings went against the government and the government chose not to appeal and let the guy go, but the D.C. Circuit held that the courts cannot force the president to release anybody.”

Most of the 532 men released by George W. Bush were released before the Supreme Court’s habeas ruling, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, just seven months before Bush left office. Those Gerstein spoke to told him that, “In the months between that ruling and the end of Bush’s term, judges ordered the release of 23 Guantánamo detainees. However, only three were actually transferred out before Bush left office.”

My definitive Guantánamo habeas corpus list confirms that this is the case. As Gerstein reported, “In October 2008, a federal judge ordered the transfer of 17 Uighur prisoners from Guantánamo to his D.C. courtroom for potential release into the US. The ruling was stayed, the Uighurs were never brought to the US and were not released until the Obama era.”

Gerstein added, “Another judge granted relief to five more prisoners the following month, three of whom were released in December 2008.” These five were Algerians who had been living in Bosnia, and who, without any evidence of wrongdoing being provided, had been kidnapped by the US in January 2002 and brought to Guantánamo.

Gerstein also noted, “An additional prisoner won his habeas case In January 2009, before Bush left office, but wasn’t released until June of that year.” That man was Mohammed El-Gharani, a former child prisoner, who had grown up in Saudi Arabia, to parents who were Chadian nationals, and who, on his release, was returned to Chad, where he knew almost nobody. In 2015, he was the subject of an acclaimed installation in New York by the artist Laurie Anderson.

On Guantánamo, as the above shows, the Trump administration cannot be trusted. Donald Trump lies, his press secretary Sean Spicer lies, and so too does Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Trump, who previously worked for Breitbart News and is worryingly Islamophobic. On Fox News, on February 22, speaking about Jamal al-Harith, the former British prisoner who had reportedly blown himself up in Iraq, Gorka made two false claims, as explained: that al-Harith had been released under Obama, when he had been released by George W. Bush in 2004; and that, amongst the prisoners released by Obama, “almost half the time, they returned to the battlefield.”

To return to where we started, the ODNI’s “confirmed” release rate of those who have “returned to the battlefield” under President Obama is just 4.4%, compared to a “confirmed” rate of 21.2% under President Bush, revealing that Gorka not only lied, but did so by deliberately reinterpreting 4.4% as nearly 50%.

On Guantánamo, then, it is abundantly clear that Donald Trump and his advisors have no idea what the truth is about Guantánamo, are dismissive of the truth, and are not to be trusted. In a world where every criticism is deflected as “fake news,” however, I can only wonder how many people are actually paying attention.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

17 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    On Day 50 of the Trump presidency, here’s my latest article, cross-posted from Close Guantanamo, taking down Donald Trump’s latest outrageous lie about Guantanamo – that 122 released prisoners who have allegedly “returned to the battlefield” were released by President Obama. In fact, 113 of the 122 were released by George W. Bush, and just nine were released by Obama (and I also have profound counts about the claim that 122 men have “returned to the battlefield”). I also take down lies by Trump’s hapless press secretary, Sean Spicer and his obnoxious Islamophobic advisor Sebastian Gorka.
    What a disgrace this president is – and so many of his advisors and representatives. I’m glad to see that much of the mainstream media picked up on this lie and disproved it, showing more enthusiasm than they often did for Guantanamo-related matters under Obama, but those who respect the law and are distressed about the ongoing existence of Guantanamo – as well as the men still held who are not facing trials – deserve better than these kind of lies and distortions. I hope you agree, and will share this.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    In other worrying news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions (still, sadly, in his job) told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday that, as Politico described it, “he sees ‘no legal problem whatsoever’ with bringing new enemy combatants” to Guantanamo. “There’s plenty of space. We’re well-equipped for it. It’s a perfect place for it,” Sessions said, fortunately adding, “Eventually this will be decided by the military rather than the Justice Department, but I see no legal problem whatsoever with doing that.” See:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Also of interest – a New Yorker article by William Finnegan:

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Brian Barlow wrote:

    They should all be released. If they can’t be put on trial in a normal court… then perhaps there is no evidence and therefore they are not criminals. Innocent until proven guilty. Obama promised to shut this abominable place down but did not, at the end of the day.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Brian. Interestingly, the US position is that they’re holding people according to the laws of war, don’t need to give them trial, and can hold them until the end of hostilities, whenever that is. This might be plausible if the men were actually held according to the Geneva Conventions, but the Geneva Conventions very seriously went AWOL under Bush and have not been properly reinstated.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    If you’re in the US, on Sunday evening there’s a 60 Minutes special with former prisoner, torture victim and acclaimed author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose grace and dignity will be a phenomenal contrast to the blundering aggression of Donald Trump and his advisors:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    We all know about Trump’s inadequacies, and those of Sean Spicer, but if the troubling Sebastian Gorka hasn’t registered with you yet, do check him out. I saw him be incredibly rude to Evan Davis on the BBC’s Newsnight a few weeks ago, and he needs tackling:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    After my friend Jan Strain shared this, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. 50 days, and Trump’s still in office. What a great disappointment. At least the mainstream media’s response to the Guantanamo lie shows that he’s not being normalised by the journalistic establishment. I don’t hear a peep out of Congress, though.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Unfortunately, Congress doesn’t care or even supports his brand of bigotry and hate. The Congress is the RW echo chamber for most of his bigotry. We lost the middle…even the Conservative right. It is now majority extremist rightwing. When Paul Ryan and Tom Cotton are “the voice of moderation” we are all in real trouble.
    Guantanamo, as affirmed by Congress, is the 21st Century US gulag.
    Ignorance – willful or not – is exactly US American style.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    We have the same problem here in the UK, Jan. From the Clinton/Blair time, the center-left moved to the right, and distanced itself from the left, and as time has gone on, with the support of corrupt right-wing media, the right has become normalized, the default center, while the center still gets votes (see Hillary’s voter majority) but not with sufficient enthusiasm, and the left, though growing, is marginalized. It’s not looking good.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Good analysis here by Steve Vladeck for Just Security:

  13. Tom says...

    Andy, I’m sure you’ve talked about how detainees suffer from PTSD and other conditions from captivity. What you also keep in mind is that there’s no cure for PTSD. A tool that many therapists use to treat patients is this. Your symptoms are a reflection of your trauma history. Everybody has their own history, factors that they struggle with and in many cases related illnesses. It’s common for PTSD patients to have heart disease, many auto immune diseases and damaged genes that control your immune system. Trauma is trapped energy in different parts of your body. Unless you get the proper treatment, every day is endless pain.

    I know many politicians being what they are only care about money, power and keeping those. Sadly, even if many detainees are finally released, how many will then actually get the treatment that they need? Many pro Guantanemo people say what are you complaining about? Detainees have better health care than US citizens. That’s false and not the point. Trump can never risk looking weak in any way. In this aspect, he’s one of the worst Presidents.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, it’s certainly the case that not everyone who is released from Guantanamo has the opportunity to have the best treatment available regarding the PTSD that, I am sure, all of them are suffering from.
    The bottom line remains that, unlike any other forms of imprisonment, the men at Guantanamo are, uniquely, held without charge or trial with no notion of when, if ever, their imprisonment will come to an end, which is, of course, what is so particularly and despicably unacceptable about it. Someone tried and convicted of a crime gets a sentence, while PoWs, which is what so many of the men at Guantanamo should always have been, at least know they will be freed at the end of hostilities. I’m sure one of the main causes of PTSD at Guantanamo is this refusal by the US authorities to acknowledge that there will be an end to hostilities – that men might be held for the rest of their lives without ever being charged with anything.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy Time for revolution….

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh yes, more than a little bit, Jan, but the people are even more profoundly asleep than they were the last time I looked. Millions and millions of them, refusing to take part in anything, while others make their excuses about being too tired, or it not making a difference, or carry on shopping, others obstinately prop up the status quo, and a growing group of others embrace far-right revolutionary impulses. Fortunately – I hope – too many of them seem to be too unfit to actually ever get out on the streets, as was shown at Trump’s almost empty inauguration, but still, our revolution isn’t looking to be on the horizon …

  17. Guantánamo, Torture and the Trump Agenda + The Hideous Pointlessness of Donald Trump’s Executive Order Keeping Guantánamo Open by Andy Worthington – Dandelion Salad says...

    […] also added, with reference to reports of recidivism on the part of former prisoners whose credibility is questionable, to put it mildly, “In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, […]

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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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