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Report: Recent Guantanamo Releases Less Likely To Re-Engage In Terrorism

New numbers are out on what U.S. officials consider "terrorist or insurgent activities" by former Guantanamo captives after their release.

At first glance, there appears to be a slight increase in confirmed cases compared to six months ago.

But closer examination of the Director of National Intelligence's semi-annual report reveals that the 17.3% to 17.9% uptick was caused entirely by detainees released from Guantanamo during the George W. Bush administration. And even that increase appears to be based almost entirely on shifting previously suspected recidivists into the category of confirmed recidivists.

The grand total in the DNI's latest report of suspected and confirmed cases of freed detainees is 185, one more than the 184 reported last September.

In contrast, the recidivism rates of detainees released from Guantanamo during the six years of the Obama administration have actually declined over the past six months. Twenty-seven more detainees were released during that half year and no new cases of recidivism have been reported.

It's not clear whether the more rigorous review process for transferring detainees out of Guantanamo begun during the Obama administration is the sole reason, but the numbers are striking: only 6 of the 115 detainees released during that time — 5.2% — are confirmed as having turned to insurgent activity, compared to 110 of of the 532 detainees — 20.7% — released before Obama took office.

But in its latest assessment of those numbers, the DNI seems to conflate the two administrations, despite their very different track records on released detainees engaging with insurgents (or "reengaging", as the DNI puts it, despite no court of law having found any of them guilty of illegal activities).

"Based on trends identified during the past eleven years," the DNI writes, "we assess that some detainees currently at GTMO will seek to reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities after they are transferred."

The DNI does acknowledge that those transferred under conditions that "may deter reengagement" (which applies to most of the detainees released under Obama) are less likely to become involved in such activities.

Why do these numbers and assessments matter? They're likely to be fodder for debates coming up soon in Congress on what should be done about the 122 detainees still at Guantanamo.

Fifty five of them have been approved for release. The problem has been finding countries that will take them, especially under the more restrictive conditions the U.S. now insists on.

Read one way, the DNI's latest report could bolster those who say current transfer policies are far less likely to add more enemies to the battlefield than during the Bush administration. Read another way, it's more official evidence that releasing those detainees is just too risky.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.