Republicans are digging in against President Obama’s plan for closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, formally introducing a resolution of opposition Tuesday as a new intelligence report found the number of released prisoners returning to terrorism has increased.
GOP lawmakers, who were already staunchly opposed to the plan to close the military prison, used the new data as an opportunity to pile on their criticisms.
Of the 144 detainees released under Obama as of Jan. 15, a dozen, or 8.3 percent, are suspected of re-engaging in terrorism or insurgency, according to the report. That’s double the number six months ago.
Seven detainees (4.9 percent) released under Obama have been confirmed as rejoining the fight.
But the White House and Democrats who have supported closure remained undeterred by the new numbers, saying the recidivism rate is much lower than it was under President George W. Bush and actually reinforces Obama’s plan.
“My understanding of the conclusions of the report is that the percentage of Gitmo detainees that are confirmed to have re-engaged in the fight is actually below 5 percent,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday. “And that is a testament to the kinds of policies this administration put in place on the president’s second day in office to carefully review, on a case-by-case basis, the status of individual detainees and to make careful decisions about what sort of security measures could be put into place if they were transferred to other countries.”
Of the 532 detainees released under Bush, 111, or 20.9 percent, are confirmed to have re-engaged. Another 74 (13.9 percent) are suspected of doing so, according to the National Intelligence report.
Under Obama’s plan to close the facility, 35 detainees deemed eligible would be sent overseas. Another 46 detainees would continue to face review boards to determine their eligibility.
The remaining detainees would be brought to a facility in the United States.
On Tuesday, Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsA guide to the committees: Senate Angst in GOP over Trump's trade agenda CNN's Acosta: 'The fix is in' on who gets to ask Trump questions MORE (R-Kan.) introduced a resolution rejecting the White House’s plan, focusing on the part of the proposal that would bring up to 60 detainees stateside.
The law already prohibits the president from transferring detainees to the United States, but some Republicans fear he will use executive action to bypass the ban.
“The president has failed to find a suitable site in a U.S. community to relocate terrorists held at Guantánamo because there is no suitable site on our shores,” Roberts said in a statement. “This resolution puts the Senate on record, again demonstrating to the president our clear opposition to this security risk. Perhaps something will deter him from an agenda in which the wishes and the security of the American people are last on the list.”
The resolution was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Tim ScottTim ScottGOP rep: No ‘artificial crowd’ at my town hall A guide to the committees: Senate Republicans at risk in 2018 steering clear of town halls MORE (S.C.), Cory GardnerCory GardnerSchumer: GOP plan to make Warren the face of Dems 'not going to work' A guide to the committees: Senate Cheney to intro Pence at Jewish GOP event MORE (Colo.), Jerry MoranJerry MoranA guide to the committees: Senate Verizon, Yahoo slash merger deal by 0M over data breaches Verizon angling to lower price of Yahoo purchase: report MORE (Kan.) and Roy BluntRoy BluntA guide to the committees: Senate Judiciary Committee wants briefing, documents on Flynn resignation Intel Dem: House GOP now open to investigating Flynn MORE (Mo.).
Under Obama, detainees have been transferred to a foreign country after approval from the Guantánamo Review Task Force set up in 2009 or the Periodic Review Board set up in 2011. Both consist of representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, and the offices of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of National Intelligence.
The secretary of Defense makes the final call on transferring detainees.
The administration also says that it gets assurances on security from the countries to which it sends detainees.
Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinWarren wants briefing on probe into Trump ally A guide to the committees: Senate House bill would prevent Trump from lifting Russian sanctions MORE (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Bush-era policies are to blame for the recidivism rate.
“Many of the people that were being released, there was no choice because we couldn’t establish criminal charges because of the manner in which they were detained before the Obama administration,” he said. “This is a problem President Obama inherited. It’s a problem he never should have had. Gitmo Bay had a limited purpose for intelligence initially. After that, it was an iconic perception of America not living up to international commitments.”
Furthermore, he said, the recidivism rate under Obama is not distressing.
“We want to see it at zero; don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But I don’t think we would be shocked by that type of a number.”
Jordan Fabian contributed.