For Republicans, Gitmo Is The Chateau D'If

Daniel Fried, the special envoy for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, testified before a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on Gitmo "recidivism" this week. Here's what he said in response to a question about the outcomes of detainee transfers. 

We have found that governments have put in a lot of effort to making detainee resettlements successful. Language training, housing, vocational training, medical help, sometimes psychological help, are all elements of this...Our experience with resettlements has generally been positive as I said. Repatriations are rather different. Repatriations of course, means detainees are going back to their country of origin. In the previous administration they did so in rather large numbers as I said. In this administration we became cautious about repatriations particularly of Yemen, particularly as the security situation deteriorated...The challenges of a successful and secure repatration to countries where there is conflict is obviously greater.

Now, Fried emphasizes that the Bush administration became worried about repatriations too and that said caution grew during the Obama administration. I think the reasons why are obvious -- there's much more information about the process of releasing detainees now, and much more political pressure related to possible "recidivists."

A couple of things about this. The Obama administration's "recidivism" rate for Gitmo is much lower than the Bush administration's, in part because the U.S. has released fewer detainees. But it's also because the last administration didn't keep comprehensive case files on them -- when the Obama administration came into office, one of the challenges of the Gitmo Detainee Task Force was understanding who the U.S. was actually detaining.

Republicans weren't particularly interested in Gitmo "recidivism" when Bush was in office, which is why they could release more than 500 without much fanfare. As Carol Rosenberg notes in her writeup, "Congress, particularly the House Armed Service Committee, has increasingly focused on the topic of recidivism as part of its campaign to keep Guantanamo open." According to the Defense Department, the Bush recidivism rate of 14.8 percent is much higher than the Obama recidivism rate of 4.4 percent. Third party groups say the DoD's estimates are high. 

Now you could say, this is one of the perks of divided government. But Republicans' insistence on focusing on recidivism solely in order to facilitate keeping Gitmo open forever makes the most effective kinds of transfers difficult to facilitate -- it's been difficult for the administration to resettle detainees in third countries because Congress has long banned transfers to American soil, now for any reason whatsoever. But, as Fried explains, resettling is more effective than repatriation, because those countries often provide more support for the detainee in question. I'm guessing these detainees are also among the least dangerous, which is why they accept them in the first place.

Now, I suppose if you think all Gitmo detainees should be held forever, this may not matter.  As Rep. Robert Wittman said during the hearing, "If we thought there was any reasonable grounds to think that a person had committed an act of violence against the United States, why would we ever release any of these people?" (He referred to this as a "rhetorical" question.) No point in bothering with transfers when you can just arbitrarily impose a life sentence without trial.  These people aren't Americans, so it's not like they should have any rights. 

For Republicans, Gitmo is now the fictional Château d'If: Everyone there is guilty, and no one held at Gitmo should ever be allowed to leave.

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