The Flawed Recidivism Statistic Fox Personalities Are Using To Criticize Release Of Guantanamo Detainees

Fox News has repeatedly pushed the debunked myth that 30 percent of released Guantanamo Bay detainees return to terror. In reality, the estimated number is around 7 percent, and has declined during Obama's time in office.

Five Yemeni Detainees Transferred Out Of Guantanamo Bay

New York Times: U.S. Moves Five Yemenis From Guantanamo. Five Yemeni detainees were transferred out of the Guantanamo Bay military prisonon January 14. Four were transferred to Oman, and the fifth was released in Estonia. According to The New York Times, the move sparked immediate Republican criticism:

The United States transferred five more detainees -- all of them Yemenis -- from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday, the Defense Department announced. Their release intensified the dispute between the Obama administration and several Republican senators over President Obama's recent flurry of transfers as he seeks to empty the American-run prison. [New York Times, 1/14/15]

Fox Personalities Suggest 30 Percent Of Released Guantanamo Detainees Return To Terrorism

Fox's Peter Johnson, Jr.: “A Third Of Those People Possibly Suicide Bombers ... Machine Gunners Bombing Jewish Grocery Stores.” On the January 16 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. claimed that former Guantanamo Bay detainees have a “staggering” recidivism rate of “almost 30 percent,” and called the recent release of five prisoners “disgusting”:

JOHNSON: It's pretty disgusting. It's so-called recidivism rate, meaning once they're let out, will they go back and do the same thing again, Elisabeth? And out of 614 transferred detainees, 104 have re-engaged in terrorism. Another 74 are suspected of doing so. And so, that's almost 30 percent. That's a 29 percent rate of confirmed or suspected re-engagement in terrorist activities based on the federal reports. And that's staggering. So, a third of those people, possibly, suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, an on-screen graphic also hyped the claim that 29 percent of former detainees return to terror:

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/16/15]

Fox Host Bill Hemmer Rejects Recidivism Facts, Hypes 30 Percent Claim. During the January 15 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, Hemmer parroted GOP claims that the recidivism rate for released Guantanamo detainees “is greater than 30 percent.” Though he noted that the State Department disputed the 30 percent claim, he baselessly rejected new statistics, arguing, “I have never seen numbers that low” and “when a Gitmo detainee goes back to their country, they're a returning war hero, don't kid yourself”:

HEMMER: Republicans will tell you, and many Democrats too, to this point, have said the recidivism rate, where they go back to the battlefield, is greater than 30 percent. And we've been told that for years, right? You had five Gitmo detainees released last night. And just yesterday, from the State Department, you had this out: detainees confirmed of reengaging were 6.8 percent. Single digits! I've never seen that number that low. Detainees suspected of re-engaging was 1.1 percent. I have -- this is the first time I have seen numbers like that before, and this is where the debate, because, McCain and Graham will tell you it's 30 percent or higher.

When a Gitmo detainee goes back to their country they are a returning war hero. Don't kid yourself. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 1/15/15]

Sean Hannity: “One In Three” Released Guantanamo Detainees “Are Confirmed Or Suspected Of Having Returned To Terrorism.” During the January 15 edition of his radio show, Fox host Sean Hannity claimed that “one in three” released Guantanamo detainees “are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism” and have become “leaders” of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Ansar al-Sharia:

HANNITY: You know we have numbers on the recidivism rate. Of the 779 detainees ever held at Gitmo, 650 have been released, and U.S. intelligence authorities report than one in three are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism. In other words, ex-Gitmo prisoners, people we had in custody, they have become, let's see, leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, one even became a suicide bomber in Iraq. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 1/15/15]

Fox Allows Sen. Ayotte's 30 Percent Recidivism Myth To Go Unchallenged. On the January 13 edition of The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream failed to challenge Senator Kelly Ayotte's (R-NH) claim that “what is damaging is the 30 percent of Guantanamo detainees that have been released that are suspected or have actually gotten back into the battle.” [Fox News, The Kelly File, 1/13/15]

Fox Guest Host Judge Alex Ferrer: “Over 30 Percent” Of Released Guantanamo Detainees “Return Back And Kill More Americans In Battle.” While guest hosting on the January 8 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, Judge Alex Ferrer claimed that “we've already seen statistically over 30 percent” of released detainees “return back and kill more Americans”:

FERRER: I don't understand the whole concept of releasing them when we've already seen that statistically over 30 percent of them return back and kill more Americans in battle. So I don't know why we're making that move. We are, I guess we're stuck between the reality that now that we know this is a war that's never going to end, what do you do with prisoners of war for a war that's never going to end? You know, you don't -- typically, at the end of war you release the prisoners back, and that's never going to happen. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 1/8/15]

But Claims Of 30 Percent Recidivism Rate Have Been Debunked

Politifact Rates Claim That 30 Percent Of Released Guantanamo Detainees Return To Terror “Mostly False.” Politifact found that the suggestion that 30 percent of released Guantanamo Bay detainees have returned to “terrorist or insurgent activity” combines the number of detainees who are confirmed and suspected of re-engaging, but does not account for those who have either been killed or recaptured. In reality, the overall recidivism rate is closer to 9 percent, and during Obama's presidency, averages 6.8 percent. Politifact explains:

To get near that 30 percent figure, we have to group together those confirmed of re-engaging and those suspected of re-engaging. Also, of those 107 confirmed of re-engaging, 48 are either dead or in custody.

So in total, 59 of 620 released Guantanamo detainees -- or about 9 percent -- are confirmed by the government to have re-engaged in terrorism and are currently at large. [Politifact, 1/15/15]

AP: Recidivism Rate For Guantanamo Detainees In Dispute. The Associated Press highlighted the dispute over the recidivism rate, noting former State Department Envoy for Closing Guantanamo Bay Clifford Sloan's argument that the 30 percent recidivism rate is “deeply flawed.” Sloan explained that the number “combines those 'confirmed' of having engaged in hostile activities with those 'suspected'” and further ignores that “many of the 'confirmed' have been killed or recaptured.” Sloan explained that the actual recidivism rate is 6.8 percent:

Opponents of closing Guantanamo ... cite a 30 percent recidivism rate among former detainees. This assertion is deeply flawed. It combines those 'confirmed' of having engaged in hostile activities with those 'suspected.' Focusing on the 'confirmed' slashes the percentage nearly in half. Moreover, many of the 'confirmed' have been killed or recaptured.


Of the detainees transferred during this administration, more than 90 percent have not been suspected, much less confirmed, of committing any hostile activities after their release.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. [Associated Press, 1/14/15]

The Recidivism Rate Has Actually Declined Under Obama

Politifact: Most Recidivism Happened During President Bush's Administration. Politifact notes that while 19 percent of released detainees were confirmed of re-engaging during Bush's administration, the number has declined to 6.8 percent throughout President Obama's term:

The numbers show that the majority of releases that have resulted in re-engagement happened before 2009 -- during former President George W. Bush's administration.

Here's the total number of released detainees and their re-engagement rates broken down over those two periods:

[Politifact, 1/15/15]

LA Times: Administration Says Few Guantanamo Detainees Turn To Terrorism After Release. In a January 14 piece, the Los Angeles Times reported on the State Department's recidivism figures:

In a statement, a senior State Department official said 19% of detainees released before President Obama took office in 2009 had been confirmed to have turned to terrorism, and 14.3% were suspected of doing so.

The number of confirmed cases among those released since 2009 has fallen to 6.8%, with the rate of those suspected at 1.1%, according to the official, who declined to be identified under administration ground rules. [LA Times, 1/14/15]