Detention & Guantanamo

HASC Oversight and Investigations Report on Recidivism

By Raffaela Wakeman
Thursday, February 9, 2012, 12:37 PM

Back in March 2011, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon and Ranking Minority Member Adam Smith instructed the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to examine transfers and releases of detainees from Guantanamo. The Subcommittee has now released the results of that investigation. The report has four major public "findings" (others are classified and thus not included in the public version the committee has released):

  1. Mechanisms to reduce the GTMO population were first contemplated when the facility was established in 2002. However, procedures to accomplish this took about eight months to finalize, and were spurred by persistent concerns that some detainees should not be held.

  2. After the first review process began, political and diplomatic pressures to reduce the GTMO population arose, resulting in releases and transfers.

  3. Pressures to reduce the GTMO population accelerated in the second Bush term, before reengagement dangers became fully apparent.

  4. While changes in the GTMO transfer and release process instituted by the Obama administration differed in some important respects from the Bush administration, there are sufficient continuities so that the threat of reengagement may not be lessened in the long term.

The Subcommittee also makes three unclassified recommendations:

    1. The Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence collaborate to produce a report (in classified and unclassified versions) to congressional committees of jurisdiction assessing factors causing or contributing to reengagement; including a discussion of trends, by country and region, where reengagement has occurred;

    2. The Department of Defense and Department of State produce a report (in classified and unclassified versions) to congressional committees of jurisdiction assessing the effectiveness of agreements in each country where transfers have occurred

    3. Congress continue the certification requirements on GTMO transfers which are contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-81; 125 Stat. 1561 [2011]), at least until receiving and reviewing the specified reports

Although the effort was bipartisan, minority members of the subcommittee did not agree with the ultimate output.

Congressman Jim Cooper provided a separate dissenting statement (page 67) in addition to joining the other Democrats on theirs. He's got a bit of a bee in his bonnet:

Rarely in the history of the House Armed Services Committee has so much time and money been spent with so little result. This report contains no news and certainly no fireworks. You will find some smoke and mirrors. It could have been, and should have been, a much better product. The majority, however, has turned a deaf ear to our suggestions. Not even the Departments of Defense and State were allowed sufficient time to review the report.

The report was supposed to be a comprehensive and bipartisan look at former GTMO detainees, but fails at both objectives. Much of the failure is due to the majority’s insistence on releasing a public report during an election year. The majority is well aware that most of the relevant material is classified and politically sensitive. To their credit, committee staff did do a workmanlike job on the classified annex, which we recommend to all members. But the public report uses a highly problematic "methodology" in order to write ghost stories designed to scare voters. Americans deserve better.

All four Democrats signed a dissent (page 69) voicing their general disagreement over the report's comprehensiveness, balance and  strategic risk. They also disagreed on finding number 4 and recommendation number 3, and disagreed on the arguments in support of the first three findings and the conclusions underlying the first two recommendations.

The Subcommittee staff interviewed many individuals in and out of government (from both the current and past administrations), but the report notes that there were three significant exceptions to the general willingness from these groups:

The committee believes the Central Intelligence Agency may have been able to provide additional insight on reengagement issues and resolve factual discrepancies identified during meetings with U.S. officials abroad. Headquarters representatives from the CIA declined requests, made at the behest of the subcommittee chairman and ranking member, to meet with staff. This impaired the committee’s efforts to evaluate fully this topic. The committee also regrets that Philip Carter, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy, declined a similar invitation to be interviewed by staff.

Finally, the Department of State, consistent with the practices of past administrations, including in connection with other Congressional requests, refused requests for copies of documents codifying certain arrangements with countries that received former detainees. The administration declined on the grounds that doing so would potentially have a “chilling effect” on negotiations with other countries.

Ben's testimony last June was cited in the dissent on page 77, John Bellinger and Bobby Chesney's work was cited on page 17, and all three plus Steve were referenced as "Staff Consultations."