Gregory allowed 61-detainee falsehood to stand unrebutted on Meet the Press

››› ››› CHRISTINE SCHWEN

On Meet the Press, host David Gregory allowed Rep. John Boehner to repeat the falsehood that, in Boehner's words, "we've already found" that 61 detainees released from the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay are now "back on the battlefield." In fact, the figure, which comes from the Pentagon, includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having engaged in terrorist activity. Moreover, even the Pentagon's claim that it has confirmed that 18 former Guantánamo detainees have returned to the battlefield has been questioned by experts.

On the January 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory allowed House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) to repeat the falsehood that, in Boehner's words, "we've already found" that 61 detainees released from the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay are now "back on the battlefield." In fact, the figure, which comes from the Pentagon, includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having "return[ed] to the fight." Moreover, even the Pentagon's claim that it has confirmed that 18 former Guantánamo detainees have returned to the battlefield has been questioned by experts.

After Gregory asked if President Obama's executive order requiring that the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay be closed within a year was "realistic," Boehner responded: "[W]hat do you do with these 270 prisoners? Some of them you might be able to release, but we've already found 61 of those that we've released back on the battlefield."

Gregory did not note that according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having engaged in terrorist activity -- detainees who have not been "already found [...] back on the battlefield," as Boehner asserted. Indeed, 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."

Further, the Pentagon's definition of "returning to the fight" has been challenged by some analysts. As CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen noted on the January 23 edition of Anderson Cooper 360: "[R]eturning 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, 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." He added that in "each of its forty-three attempts to provide the numbers of the recidivist detainees, the Department of Defense has given different sets of numbers that are contradictory and internally inconsistent with the Department's own data."

Gregory also failed to challenge Boehner's assertion that the detainees at Guantánamo "are terrorists who have attempted to kill Americans." As Media Matters documented, a February 8, 2006, study authored by Denbeaux and a lawyer representing Guantánamo detainees analyzed Defense Department data on 517 Guantánamo Bay detainees, finding that more than half "are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies."

From the January 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

GREGORY: Let me turn to the issue of the executive order that the president signed to close down the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Is that realistic?

BOEHNER: I don't believe so, and I've got concerns about it. I understand the problem with Gitmo and the black eye that it's given us. But President Bush wanted to close down Gitmo, too. So did Senator John McCain. And the reason that Gitmo is still there is they couldn't determine -- what do you do with these 270 prisoners? Some of them you might be able to release, but we've already found 61 of those that we've released back on the battlefield.

You don't want to bring them into the United States, where all of a sudden they have rights of U.S. citizens. We have to remember these are terrorists who have attempted to kill Americans, and unilaterally saying, "We're going to close Gitmo in a year," without knowing how we're going to deal with them, where we're going to house them, how we're going to try them, I think keeps a campaign promise but may be irresponsible.

GREGORY: Do you think that the president is making America less safe in taking this step?

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Detention, National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
David Gregory
Show/Publication
Meet the Press
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