Debunking Former Vice President Cheney’s Myths: Returning to the Battlefield

Cheney Myth: Citing intelligence reports, Cheney said at least 61 of the inmates who were released from Guantanamo during the Bush administration — “that’s about 11 or 12 percent” — have “gone back into the business of being terrorists.”

The 200 or so inmates still there, he claimed, are “the hard core” whose “recidivism rate would be much higher.”

“If you release the hard-core al Qaeda terrorists that are held at Guantanamo, I think they go back into the business of trying to kill more Americans and mount further mass-casualty attacks,” he said. “If you turn ’em loose and they go kill more Americans, who’s responsible for that?” (February 4, 2009)

The figure that 61 former detainees from Guantanamo have returned to the fight against the United States and its allies has been bandied about a lot lately. But even in the Pentagon’s own statement, that figure breaks down, with only 18 confirmed and 43 suspected.

The Department of Defense has announced this statistic on numerous occasions over the years, and each time the number of returnees to the battlefield is reported, the number is different, with no information offered: they don‘t identify a date, a place, a time, a name or an incident to support their claims.

And their methods of determining what constitutes a “return to the fight” were quite seriously exposed as flawed in late 2007 by Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research. In a detailed report using public information, they examined the government’s claim at that time that some 30 Gitmo detainees had returned to the battlefield. They found the bases for that claim highly questionable:

The Department of Defense has publicly insisted that “just short of thirty” former Guantánamo detainees have “returned” to the battlefield, where they have been re-captured or killed, but to date the Department has described at most fifteen (15) possible recidivists, and has identified only seven (7) of these individuals by name. According to the data provided by the Department of Defense:

• At least eight (8) of the fifteen (15) individuals alleged by the Government to have “returned to the fight” are accused of nothing more than speaking critically of the Government’s detention policies;

• Ten (10) of the individuals have neither been re-captured nor killed by anyone; and

• Of the five (5) individuals who are alleged to have been re-captured or killed, the names of two (2) do not appear on the list of individuals who have at any time been detained at Guantánamo, and the remaining three (3) include one (1) individual who was killed in an apartment complex in Russia by local authorities and one (1) who is not listed among former Guantánamo detainees but who, after his death, has been alleged to have been detained under a different name.

Seton Hall discovered a July 2007 news release from the government that included brief descriptions of the Government’s bases for asserting that each of seven identified “recidivists” had “returned to the fight.” They included in the list “The Tipton Three,” who, upon release from Guantánamo, have publicly criticized the way they were treated at the hands of the United States in the documentary film “The Road to Guantanamo.” On this basis, they were deemed to have participated in “anti-coalition militant activities” despite having neither “returned to a battlefield” nor committed any hostile acts whatsoever.

Also on the list, were a group of Uighurs in Albania who were in a refugee camp until relatively recently resettling in Tirana, except for one, who lives with his sister in Sweden. Apparently, DoD categorizes as “anti-coalition militant activity” the writing of an opinion piece in the New York Times by one of the Uighur men, Abu Bakker Qassim, which urged American lawmakers to protect habeas corpus. If critical of the United States Government, speech is evidently considered “anti-coalition militant activity.”

The government curiously admitted in that news release above that it does “not generally track ex-GTMO detainees after repatriation or resettlement.” It is unclear how the Government is able to identify returnees to the fight if it doesn’t keep track of ex-detainee whereabouts. This admission further undermines the basis for the statistics.

The new number – 61 former detainees – should not be accepted simply because DoD says it is so. In fact, the numbers made public by the government are incoherent and baseless. Even the government is only confident of 18 returnees, and if the basis of that confidence is anything like the methodology behind the 2007 statistics, the government’s – and former Vice President Cheney’s – assertions ring hollow.


Published on February 10, 2009


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