Jake Tapper reports White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan's assertion that "recidivists" from Guantanamo Bay -- those former detainees the administration believes have "returned" to terrorism -- have all been released under Bush. According to Brennan, "20 percent of detainees transferred from Guantanamo are confirmed or suspected of recidivist activity":
This includes 9.6 percent of detainees who have been confirmed as having returned to terrorist activities, and 10.4 percent whom the Intelligence Community "suspects, but is not certain, may have engaged in recidivist activities."
"I want to underscore the fact that all of these cases relate to detainees released during the previous administration and under the prior detainee review process," Brennan writes. "The report indicates no confirmed or suspected recidivists among detainees transferred during this Administration, although we recognize the ongoing risk that detainees could engage in such activity."
Conservatives like to think that arbitrary detention of anyone accused of being a terrorist is being "tough." But what it meant was that, prior to a year-long review process conducted by Justice Department and national security officials, it wasn't clear who the government had a reason to detain and who it didn't. Because they assumed they wouldn't have to justify the detention of the people in their custody, the Bush administration left the case files for the detainees "in disarray," and in fact there were "no comprehensive case files on many of them." That's what happens when there's no incentive to justify the detention of the accused. That haphazard approach likely led to people being released who should have been charged with a crime.
That said, the 20 percent "confirmed or suspected" as a marker for recidivism is dubious, and what it means is the number the government is willing to claim have actually returned to terrorism is closer to 10 percent. In the past the government has been caught fudging the numbers, and an independent study by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation pegged the real recidivism rate at closer to 4 percent. Until the government releases the actual report itself so it can be independently evaluated, this number is little more than spin.
Justin Elliot had a good piece a while ago on how the term "recidivism" assumes guilt on the part of the detainees, which seems odd given that the reason they were released is because the government didn't have compelling evidence of their guilt. He also points out that some detainees who are now suspected of engaging in terrorism may not have been terrorists to begin with but were radicalized by their time at Gitmo. "Recidivism" is the term usually applied to criminals who reoffend, but the point is if someone has served a bid in prison in the U.S., it's because they were convicted in a court of law, not because the executive branch pointed a finger and threw them in a cell.
This reveals a general problem with the language of our national security conversation, which almost always assumes the guilt of the accused. For example, we almost always say "try terrorists in civilian court," a phrase that assumes the accused is automatically guilty. This is the group of 100 who will be released without charge.
-- A. Serwer
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