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New America Says Guantanamo Recidivism Rate Isn’t as High as Intelligence Community Claims

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Friday, May 10, 2013 at 7:15 AM

The New America Foundation has released a fact sheet listing the identities of Guantanamo Bay detainees who are “confirmed to be or suspected of engaging in militant activities against either U.S. or non-U.S. targets” after their release or relocation from the prison. New America’s numbers suggest that the recidivism rate may actually be a fair bit lower than intelligence community estimates; as Raffaela noted earlier this year, the latest DNI report from January 2013 put the number of detainees “confirmed of reengaging” at 16.1 percent and the number of detainees “suspected of reengaging” at 11.9 percent.

New America’s findings are different. Its numbers are broken down as follows:

  • Detainees confirmed to be engaging in militant activities against U.S. targets: 17 (2.8 percent)
  • Detainees suspected of engaging in militant activities against U.S. targets: 21 (3.5 percent)
  • Detainees confirmed to be engaging in militant activities against non-U.S. targets: 7 (1.2 percent)
  • Detainees suspected of engaging in militant activities against non-U.S. targets: 7 (1.2 percent)

The total number “confirmed of reengaging,” then, stands at 4 percent—in stark contrast to the DNI’s estimate of 16.1 percent—and the total number “suspected of reengaging” is at 4.7—again, very different from DNI’s number of 11.9 percent.

Although New America didn’t use classified information in compiling these figures (it relied on public reports and media accounts) it is worth noting that the Taliban and Al Qaeda usually are quick to publicize former detainees who return to the fight, as is the press.

The threat of recidivism is real, as dramatically illustrated by the case of former detainee Said Ali al-Shihri, who was transferred to Saudi Arabia in 2007, went through a rehabilitation program, and then promptly became a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  (He reportedly died last year in Yemen, from wounds sustained during what the Yemeni government called a  “counterterrorism operation.”)  Still, New America’s estimates are important because they offer a window on how much the DNI’s numbers can—or cannot—be supported based on assumptions made from publicly available information. And if these numbers are indeed closer to the real numbers than the intelligence community’s much-higher estimates, it might be a little easier politically to transfer more detainees out of Guantanamo Bay.

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