Many Ex-Detainees Said to Be Engaged in Terror
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: January 7, 2010
WASHINGTON — Administration officials said Wednesday that a classified Pentagon report concludes that of some 560 detainees transferred abroad from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, about one in five has engaged in, or is suspected of engaging in, terrorism or militant activity.
Ron Edmonds/Associated Press
President George W. Bush left office with 242 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
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The finding comes amid reports that one former Guantánamo detainee released in 2007 under the administration of President George W. Bush is now involved with a branch of Al Qaeda based in Yemen, a group that President Obama has said sponsored the attempt to bomb an American airliner on Christmas Day.
Mr. Obama announced Tuesday that he was suspending the transfers of additional detainees from Guantánamo to Yemen, even though he said he remained committed to his plan, now delayed, to close the prison.
A Pentagon report released last May found that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners who had been transferred had engaged in terrorism or militant activity or was suspected of doing so.
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, would not confirm the findings in the most recent Pentagon report, but he said Wednesday at a briefing that “the trend hasn’t reversed itself.” He said that determining which Guantánamo detainees should be released was an “inexact science” and that officials were “making subjective calls based upon judgment, intelligence, and so there is no foolproof answer in this realm.”
Civil liberties and human rights groups sharply criticized the May 2009 report and earlier Pentagon reports during the Bush administration concluding that substantial numbers of former Guantánamo detainees had engaged in terrorism or militant activity. The groups said that the information was too vague to be credible and amounted to propaganda in favor of keeping the prison open.
In the May report, the Pentagon said that 74 former prisoners were engaged in or suspected of engaging in terrorism or militant activity, but it identified only 29 of them by name. Of those, many were described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with few other details provided. The Pentagon provided no way of authenticating the 45 unidentified former detainees.
The Obama administration has been highly sensitive to Republican criticism that it is soft on terrorism and has sought to distance itself from the decisions to release Guantánamo detainees during the Bush administration.
Mr. Obama inherited 242 detainees at Guantánamo when he took office, and so far he has released or transferred 44. Of the 198 remaining, about 92 are from Yemen. Of those, just under 40 have been cleared for release.
An administration official said Wednesday that the White House had “been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight.” The official was critical of the Bush administration for what the official said was a sloppy, ad hoc process for determining which detainees would be released.
Mr. Obama’s decision to suspend the transfers of detainees from Guantánamo to Yemen was another reflection of his difficulties in closing the prison.
The president was already on track to miss his self-imposed one-year deadline for closing the prison by Jan. 22, but evidence that the Qaeda branch in Yemen was behind the attempted airliner attack on Dec. 25 means he will probably fall further behind schedule.