Gitmo recidivism report splits lawmakers

A report released Thursday that claims 27 percent of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay could be reengaging in terrorist activities has sparked a rare partisan fight on the House Armed Services Committee.

The study from the panel’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee found that both the Bush and Obama administrations struggled to assess the risk of releasing the detainees and ensuring that the countries that took them in would prevent them from returning to terrorist activities.

“Despite earnest and well-meaning efforts by officials in both administrations, the reengagement rate suggests failures in one or both aspects of the process,” the report said.

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Democrats on the subcommittee did not sign onto the report and instead issued a dissenting opinion. Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) accused Republicans of reaching conclusions that were politically motivated.

“The Armed Services Committee is not accustomed, and should not lower itself, to wearing blinders, dumbing down information, and hinting darkly, all in order to attempt a partisan advantage,” Cooper said in a statement. “Much of the failure is due to the majority’s insistence on releasing a public report during an election year.”

Republicans said they worked with Democrats and their staff to produce the report, and that they attempted to accommodate all Democratic concerns.

“It’s a nonpartisan report,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the subcommittee chairman, told The Hill. “We looked at both administrations. Their staff was involved from day one, and every element of the evaluation here involved the minority.”

The division is rare for the Armed Services Committee, which prides itself on being the most bipartisan committee in Congress.

Guantanamo Bay has been a thorny issue for President Obama, who signed an executive order the day he took office aimed at closing the facility. Republicans have placed restrictions on transferring detainees or building replacement facilities in Defense Authorization legislation since then, and the president has restarted military trials at the prison, conceding it will remain open. 

Thursday’s report cites U.S. officials who said in September that 27 percent of Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected to have reengaged in terror activities. The report found that five of 66 detainees who left between February 2009 and October 2010 were confirmed or suspected to be involved with terror activities.

The report found that “the Bush and Obama administrations, in reaction to domestic political pressures, a desire to earn goodwill abroad, and in an attempt to advance strategic national security goals, sought to ‘release’ or ‘transfer’ GITMO detainees elsewhere.”

“The key is making sure we don’t allow detainees to areas where they rejoin the battle,” Wittman said. “The analysis of the policy cuts across both administrations, making sure the process is such that these detainees are not returning to the battlefield and seeking to harm Americans, seeking to kill Americans.”

Democrats said the GOP’s report ignored the national security value of closing Guantanamo down.

The prison “is a black eye for our on nation abroad, serving as a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services panel.

“We have the ability to close the facility, and we should be working toward that end,” he said.

In their dissent, Democrats said the recidivism rate for released detainees during the Obama administration is “closer to 3 percent,” rather than the 27 percent figure cited in the report. They said the study backed by Republicans “presents an unbalanced, one-sided view of the consequences of current transfer policy.”

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement that the report found “our detainee release policy could be unnecessarily risky and potentially harmful to U.S. national security.”

Smith, who took a much softer tone than Cooper in explaining why Democrats didn’t sign on, said Thursday that the two parties “worked together in good faith.”

“There were attempts on both sides to reconcile the differences, but they fell short,” he said.