Some of the suspected terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay will rejoin the fight against the U.S. no matter what conditions the government tries to impose on them, the intelligence community concluded in a report last week that gives Republicans more ammunition to stop President Obama’s push to close the U.S. military detention center in Cuba.
Detainees released and sent to volatile countries with no restrictions on their movements are the most likely to return to the battle, but some of those still being housed at the prison will find a way to rejoin the fight no matter what precautions are taken, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the report.
“Some detainees who are determined to reengage will do so regardless of any transfer conditions, albeit probably at a lower rate than if they were transferred without conditions,” the report said.
The problem was worse under President George W. Bush, with more than 20 percent of the 532 detainees released on his watch confirmed to have rejoined the fight, and about 13 percent suspected of returning to the battlefield.
Mr. Obama took office in 2009 vowing to close the prison within a year, but Congress imposed new restrictions, making it tougher to transfer them.
That has helped reduce the recidivism rate but not eliminate it. Of the 115 detainees released on Mr. Obama’s watch, about 5 percent have been confirmed to have rejoined the fight, and less than 1 percent are suspected of returning to warfare.
Conditions typically placed on transfers include geographic limitations, monitoring by the receiving country and information sharing with the U.S., said Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III, Pentagon spokesman for detainee policy. He declined to give details of any specific security agreements.
Of the 113 detainees remaining at the prison, 17 are “high-value detainees,” according to data compiled by The New York Times.
The president has increased the rate of transfers in recent months, releasing five prisoners so far this year and 22 in the last two months of 2014. Some Republicans have criticized the uptick in releases, saying U.S. troops could end up fighting terrorists they already captured.
Of the 116 former detainees who have been confirmed to have joined terrorist groups, 110 were released under Mr. Bush and six under Mr. Obama.
No new detainees released by Mr. Obama were deemed to have rejoined the fight since the DNI last reported to Congress in July.
Scott Roehm, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, said the DNI’s biannual reports are often either misunderstood or mischaracterized for political reasons. He said the same warning about some detainees returning to battle regardless of restrictions was in July’s report, but the last six months’ record shows the process is successful.
“The clear takeaway from the report is the post-2009 process of releasing people from Gitmo is working,” Mr. Roehm said.
But Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Mr. Obama’s goal of emptying the prison is putting national security at risk.
“At a time when Islamist extremists are surging worldwide, President Obama’s policy of releasing hardened terrorists from the Guantanamo Bay facility is replenishing their ranks,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement. “This administration must reassess its reckless detainee policies and stop freeing terrorists.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, has introduced a bill that would ban transfers to Yemen, as well as extend a ban on bringing detainees to the U.S. She said that would help cut down on recidivism.
“Especially when most of the remaining Guantanamo detainees are the worst of the worst terrorists who pose a high risk for re-engagement in terrorist activities, the DNI’s assessment further demonstrates the danger posed by the administration’s rush to empty and close Guantanamo,” Ms. Ayotte said in a statement.
Her bill cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.
Five Gitmo prisoners were released to Qatar in May in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s return to the U.S. The so-called “Talbian Five” are under a one-year travel ban and are monitored by intelligence officials.
Despite those precautions, one of the detainees reportedly tried to return to terrorist activity in January by contacting terrorist leaders outside Qatar. Administration officials said the man had not returned to battle, and the suspicious activity had been discovered by the close monitoring the U.S. put in place, proving that the precautions were doing their job.