Those 61 Gitmo Recidivists Keep Popping Back Up…

January 23, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

During a radio interview Thursday on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, I was asked the question that’s popping up more and more these days, now that Obama has pledged to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison: aren’t all those dangerous terrorists just going to go back to where they came from and attack the United States all over again?

Given that the Defense Department under Bush had recently claimed that as many as 61 ex-Gitmo detainees had returned to the so-called battlefield of terror and struck U.S. targets yet again, it was a logical question. But as Keith Olbermann pointed out on MSNBC’s “Countdown” yesterday, a recent study by Seton Hall Law Professor Mark Denbeaux (who appeared last week on the Rachel Maddow show) found that those numbers were pure fiction.

“Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies,” Denbaux said in a statement accompanying his report released last week.

“Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantánamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as ‘returning to the fight’ for their having written an Op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men.”

Meanwhile, the Defense Department has also said that “they do not track” former detainees. “Rather than making up numbers “willy-nilly” about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them,” Denbaux said.

Hmmm, now there’s an idea.