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Pentagon Misinforms Public on Released Gitmo Detainees

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January 26, 2009

Amidst the welcome news of President Obama’s bold, first steps towards restoring the rule of law by ending torture and closing Guantánamo, emerged a news report of a released Guantánamo detainee — Ali al Shihri — “returning to the battlefield.”

Aside from the curiously coincidental timing of the report, it’s worth examining the facts (and lack of facts) surrounding the notion of detainees allegedly returning to terrorism.

Al-Shihri was released by the Bush administration in 2007 — without trial or judicial review even though there may have been actual evidence pertaining to his involvement with militant groups. Instead, he was turned over to the Saudis, who eventually released him. This doesn’t exactly fit in well with the Bush administration narrative that they needed to keep Gitmo open as a part of the so-called “war on terror” — and brings up questions of how evidence was handled and how decisions were made to release detainees.

Recently, the Seton Hall Center for Policy and Research released a report (PDF) that rebuts and debunks the Department of Defense’s latest claim that “61, in all, former Guantánamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” Law Professor Mark Denbeaux points out that the Department of Defense has “[o]nce again…failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies.” And, upon examining the information that does exist, Denbeaux finds that the ever-changing number of people who have left Gitmo and returned to the battlefield includes:

  • The “Tipton Three” — because of their participation in a documentary called The Road to Guantánamo
  • Five Uighurs (who the DoD has conceded were never enemies of the United States) who were held in an Albanian village after leaving Guantánamo — because their lawyer wrote an editorial criticizing detention policies at Gitmo

The report includes a chart of publicly cited numbers of released Gitmo detainees who allegedly returned to the battlefield or were killed in combat (below).

From Released Guantánamo Detainees and the Department of Defense: Propaganda by the Numbers? (Seton Hall University School of Law)

The bottom line: the actual number of people who would meet an objective definition of “returning to the battlefield” is tiny.

Even more troubling, the Pentagon’s widespread misinformation campaign has led to media reports that propogate the back-to-the-battlefield myth. Media Matters gives the details on this unfortunate misinformation campaign.

A number of important questions need to be asked about the Bush administration’s incoherent record keeping on the matter — and such contradictory and inconsistent attempts to spin DoD data regarding those who remain at Gitmo should not stand in the way of restoring the rule of law and continuing ahead on the long road to get to an America we can be proud of again.

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