The Obama administration is pushing back against Republican legislation that would restrict President Obama’s ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay, pointing to a drop in detainee recidivism rates.
A senior State Department official on Wednesday cited a recent report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that found the rate of detainees returning to the battlefield had significantly decreased in a review process implemented by President Obama in 2009.
According to the report, the percentage of feed detainees “reengaging” during the Bush administration was 19 percent, while another 14.3 percent were "suspected of reengaging.” Since Obama took office, however, just 6.8 percent of detainees are confirmed as reengaging, while just 1.1 percent are suspected of returning to the battlefield.
"Nearly half of the former detainees confirmed of reengaging are either dead or in custody, and more than one-third of the former detainees suspected of re-engaging are either dead or in custody," the official said.
A bill offered by Senate Republicans would bar detainee transfers to Yemen, suspend transfers of high- and medium-risk detainees and require the Defense secretary to provide an unclassified report on detainees who have been deemed high- or medium-risk at any point.
The legislation would also reaffirm the prohibition on detainee transfers to the U.S. and prevent the Pentagon or any other federal department from constructing or modifying facilities to house detainees.
Republicans have argued that efforts to empty the prison are returning terrorists to the battlefield and putting American lives at risk. The recent attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris underscores the risk posed by those freed from Guantanamo, GOP lawmakers said.
"The attack in Paris indicated the degree in which terrorists are being trained and sent back to commit acts of terror," said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainProgressives say go big and make life hard for GOP The Biden-Harris train wreck may have its savior: 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump Kelly raises million in third quarter MORE (R-Ariz) on Tuesday.
And Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.) suggested the freeing of prisoners would give new life to al Qaeda.
"At a time that the administration suggests that al Qaeda has been decimated, at a minimum why would we begin to rebuild al Qaeda?" Burr asked.
Obama has released 22 Guantanamo detainees since the midterms, bringing the total number of prisoners at the facility to 127.
But press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged on Tuesday that it would be "very, very difficult" for Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of closing the facility without help from Congress.
"Presumably, if we had a lot of options for overcoming those obstacles that Congress has thrown up, then we probably would have used at least some of them already," Earnest said.
The White House spokesman stressed that the president believed it was "in the clear national security interest of the United States" to close the prison.
Kristina Wong contributed.