Fox News hosts tout myth that 60 or more Gitmo detainees are known to have returned to battlefield

Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade advanced the myth that 60 or more former Guantánamo Bay detainees are known to have, in Hannity's words, “gone back to the battlefield.” However, according to the Pentagon, only 18 former Guantánamo detainees have been “confirmed” to have “return[ed] to the fight,” while an additional 43 former detainees are “suspected” of having done so. Even the Pentagon's “confirmed” figure has been questioned by analysts.

During the March 10 edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity stated of former prisoners at Guantánamo Bay: "[W]e know there's about 60-some-odd detainees that have gone back to the battlefield." The next morning, on Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade similarly asserted, “Sixty have already gone -- gotten released and gone back into action.” Hannity and Kilmeade cited no evidence for these claims. However, according to the Pentagon, only 18 former Guantánamo detainees have been “confirmed” to have “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.”

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. For instance, CNN national security analyst Peter 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 a January 15 Seton Hall press release:

Professor Denbeaux of the Center for Policy & Research has said that the Center has determined that “DOD has issued 'recidivism' numbers 43 times, and each time they have been wrong -- this last time the most egregiously so.”

Denbeaux stated: “Once again, they've failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies. Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantánamo -- much less were they released from there. They have counted people as 'returning to the fight' for their having written an Op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival.

In the January 13 Pentagon press conference, Morell discussed how the Defense Intelligence Agency determines whether former detainees are suspected or confirmed of having ” return[ed] to terrorism" and asserted that “engagement in propaganda ... does not qualify as terrorist activity.”

From the March 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: And we continue now with our “Great American Panel.”

All right. While we're all paying attention to the economy, we've got the Gitmo detainees -- five of them, charged with planning the 9-11 attacks -- have filed a document with the military commission at Gitmo, expressing pride at their accomplishment and accepting full responsibility for killing nearly 9,000 people -- about 3,000 people.

Why would we ever release these people and give them, for the first time in the history of warfare, give them constitutional rights?

S.E. CUPP (columnist): They're not criminals, so we shouldn't. They're sociopathic terrorists.

HANNITY: They're enemy combatants at a time of war.

CUPP: Absolutely. Absolutely. They don't deserve a Miranda. They don't deserve habeas corpus. They deserve to sit in jail for the rest of their natural lives or until Al Qaeda surrenders. Period. It's not hard.

HANNITY: If the 9-11 Commission report is right, Michael, that they declared war on us and we're fighting a war, and we know there's about 60-some-odd detainees that have gone back to the battlefield, why for the first time ever would we give rights to enemy combatants?

MICHAEL BROWN (Democratic strategist): I don't know. I'm going to agree with you on this one, Sean. I'm --

HANNITY: I am shocked.

BROWN: Are you stunned? It's happened -- it's happened a couple of times, believe it or not.

HANNITY: No, it has.

BROWN: I -- I don't understand --

HANNITY: Bad idea, right?

BROWN: -- I'm with S.E. I think you can give some rights because we still are America, and we deserve to treat people like human beings. But the bottom line is when they committed the acts they committed against us, I don't know why they need to see the light of day again.

From the March 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

KILMEADE: Does it stun you, for someone who's looked Taliban and Al Qaeda in the face and hunted for them on the ground of Afghanistan that we have ignored this, our enemies on Page 17 of The New York Times.

GARY BERNTSEN (former CIA operative): Sadly, I'm not surprised because during the war in 2001 I turned to all my men and said, within five years everyone will be looking for every mistake that we made and people will try to prosecute us because America will forget.

KILMEADE: Sixty have already gone -- gotten released and gone back into action. One is the Southern commander of the Taliban. This guy, Zakir is his new nickname, he is now marshalling up troops, training them, festering that hate. He was given back to the Afghan government in 2007, and they released all five -- 12 of them.

BERNTSEN: Well, he was captured up in Konduz, you know, in the second week of December of 2001. Many of the prisoners, Gitmo folks who have said, oh, we're innocent, we were there doing business. They made up all sorts of excuses and if there wasn't hard evidence because they were captured in such large numbers, people have given them the benefit of the doubt. I'm gonna say something, the Bush administration released him. This was not the Obama administration that released him.

KILMEADE: Because the courts had turned on them.

BERNTSEN: The point was we needed to deal with this a lot faster than we did. We let this thing delay and like a fine wine, it doesn't get better with time.