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Pentagon Notes Recidivism Among Ex-Gitmo Detainees

U.S. President Barack Obama signed the second of three executive orders to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention facility on January 22.
As U.S. President Barack Obama prepared to deliver a speech on U.S. national security -- including plans for the 240 detainees who are still at the U.S. military's detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba -- a freshly leaked Pentagon report complicated his effort to close the facility.

"The New York Times" quoted an unreleased Pentagon report as saying that 14 percent of former Guantanamo detainees have engaged in terrorism or militant activity since they left the facility, including "providing financing to terrorists [and] radicalizing others" according to Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller.

Mueller testified to the U.S. Senate on May 20 that moving detainees to American prisons risks "the potential for individuals" to carry out or support fresh terrorist attacks in the United States.

Still, when questioned whether former Guantanamo detainees could carry out terrorist attacks from within a U.S. prison, Mueller responded that "if you are talking about physical danger in terms of being able to escape and undertake an attack, no."

"The New York Times" says the latest Pentagon report specifies that a total of 534 detainees at Guantanamo have been transferred abroad so far. Of those, the Pentagon says 74 former detainees -- or one out of seven -- have since returned to terrorist or militant activities.

The Pentagon report identifies 29 of those former detainees by name, including 16 who were named for the first time. It also says the remaining 45 could not be named because of national security and intelligence-gathering concerns.

Civil liberties groups have been skeptical about previous Pentagon reports on Guantanamo recidivism. Some have criticized the lack of detail in the reports -- which has made it difficult to independently confirm the Pentagon's claims.

Others have questioned the Pentagon's definition of "terrorist or militant activity," and have noted cases where former detainees were accused of such activity merely because they were interviewed by a journalist or for documentary films.

In January, Obama promised that "Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now." But to do that, the remaining 240 detainees at the facility must either be sent overseas for release, transferred to the custody of foreign governments, or moved to prisons in the United States.

The idea of transferring some detainees to prisons on U.S. soil has clearly met with opposition in Washington from Democrats and Republicans alike.

On May 20, the U.S. Senate voted 90 to six against Obama's request for $80 million to close the Guantanamo detention center. The Senate also voted to block the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons on U.S. soil through September 30.

Some lawmakers have argued that leaving Guantanamo open could pose a greater threat than closing the facility and releasing some detainees.

Democrat Dick Durbin, a senator from Obama's state of Illinois, suggested that facilities like Guantanamo -- and media reports about the treatment of detainees there -- serve as a rallying call for militants recruiting new fighters.

"What happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of the United States and has endangered alliances which we have counted on for decades," Durbin said. "President Obama is trying to change that. By closing Guantanamo and responsibly allocating those detainees to safe and secure positions, he is going to send a message to the world that it is a new day in terms of American foreign policy."

Republican Senator James Inhofe (Oklahoma) said closing Guantanamo raises unanswerable questions. "You have to figure out what to do with some 245 detainees, most of whom are pretty bad guys," Inhofe said. "Their countries won't take them back, and there is no place else to put them."

Obama was expected to make similar arguments in his national security speech on May 21, but the scenario for a showdown is in place.

At the same time as Obama's speech, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was scheduled to make his own speech on national security issues.