Wash. Times, CNN.com advanced 61-detainee falsehood

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

In a recent article, The Washington Times falsely claimed that "[a]t least 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates have returned to terrorism, according to the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency." And CNN.com uncritically reported Rep. Lamar Smith's assertion that "at least 61" former Guantánamo detainees "have returned to terrorist activities against the U.S. and our allies." In fact, according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having "return[ed] to the fight."

In a February 19 article, The Washington Times falsely claimed that "[a]t least 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates have returned to terrorism, according to the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency." Similarly, a February 18 CNN.com article uncritically reported Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-TX) assertion that "at least 61" former Guantánamo detainees "have returned to terrorist activities against the U.S. and our allies." In fact, according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having "return[ed] to the fight," as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented. Indeed, 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." CNN.com uncritically relayed Smith's assertion that "at least 61" detainees "have returned to terrorist activities" even though CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen has noted that "information isn't out there" to support the claim.

Even the Pentagon's claim that it has confirmed that 18 former Guantánamo detainees have "return[ed] to the fight" has been questioned by analysts. 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've 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 Law School professor Mark Denbeaux has disputed the Pentagon's figures, asserting that 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." Denbeaux has written several reports about Guantánamo detainees, including reports challenging the Pentagon's definition of "battlefield" capture and the Pentagon's published detainee recidivism rates.

From the February 19 Washington Times article:

"We don't have a rehabilitation program down there," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, the Pentagon spokesman regarding Guantanamo. "It was constructed to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield." The complex of camps in Cuba was expanded after the Sept. 11 attacks to house terror suspects, most of whom were captured in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. At its peak, the prison held 780 detainees.

At least 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates have returned to terrorism, according to the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). That number may not reflect all ex-detainees who have reverted. For example, a former detainee who recently appeared on an extremist Web site as an al Qaeda leader had not been listed among the 61.

From the February 18 CNN.com article:

"The Bush administration already released over 500 Gitmo detainees that were believed to be 'safe' for transfer," Rep. Lamar Smith, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said in a prepared statement.

"Of those, at least 61 have returned to terrorist activities against the U.S. and our allies. The remaining detainees in Guantanamo Bay are the worst-of-the-worst offenders. We cannot allow known terrorists to roam the streets of the U.S.," Smith said. "Congress must provide the courts and the government with clear guidelines for the detention of foreign terrorists."

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Detention, National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
The Washington Times
Show/Publication
CNN.com
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