The Pentagon last week put out numbers that stated 61 former detainees at the soon-to-be-closed Guantanamo Bay military prison camp have returned to terrorist activities according to U.S. intelligence (the same folks who may or may not have said that Saddam had WMD). Some security experts, however, have come out to say that the number of released Gitmo detainees who "returned" to terrorism may be highly misleading.
For one thing, I wish that the government were just as worried about the recidivism of terrorists as they were of state offenders. The recidivism rate for state prisoners is nearly 70%, which ends up costing the taxpayer untold amounts of money, while 61 former detainees at Gitmo represent only about 11% of the about 520 folks to have pulled a "revolving door" through Gitmo's gates in orange jumpsuits. For example, in 2005 alone 16,692 people were murdered on American streets in non-terror related homicides. Since 1983, terrorism has killed 6,640 (which counts the Beirut bombing, the USS Cole, the Kenyan embassy bombings, Iraq and Afghanistan). If you want to count only terrorist attacks on American soil, the number is 3,315 victims who lost their lives (WTC in '93, Oklahoma City, and 9/11). So while 16,692 people lost their lives in America thanks to domestic crime (whose offenders are, statistically, about 65% likely to commit another crime after spending time in our penal system) in a single year, it is national news (and an outrage that requires immediate attention) when over two decades see 3,315 dead (with only 11% of those likely to recommit terrorist activities). Which is the real national security issue?
Secondly, only 18 of those 61 former detainees have actually been confirmed to be involved in terrorist activities following their release from Gitmo. The other 43 are "suspected" of being involved in terrorist activities. Excuse my cynicism, but I believe that Saddam was "suspected" of being involved with 9/11. So in reality, we know that only 4% of released Gitmo detainees went on to be involved in terrorism. And that's the other thing: if the government says that they "returned" to terrorism, that means that they were involved in it when we picked them up. So if we knew this, how could we not convict them of such a serious charge and send them to prison for life? Is it possible that we picked up innocents who were implicated by their fellow villagers and other shady informants and happened to radicalize them while they were unjustly held without habeas corpus in a military prison on the island of a sworn enemy (Castro)? It does not seem out of the realm of possibilities.
Lastly, the Pentagon has admitted that some of the Gitmo recidivists have been implicated in terrorism for merely making anti-American statements in public. This is to be expected when a country locks you up with no trial, tortures you and deems you to be "the worst of the worst" while keeping you in conditions unfit for a stray dog (all the while, you may not have even done anything). If the only thing that those released from Guantanamo do is publicly make anti-American statements, then we're lucky. Gitmo is a lightning rod for radicalization and terrorist recruitment; Obama is doing this country a favor by closing it down. Think of it like this: a horrible crime occurs in your neighborhood and the cops think it was done by a neighbor. They round up every person in the neighborhood, believing they've caught the guy who did it. They don't bring official charges against anyone and use questionable interrogation techniques. After years of inhumane treatment, they release those that they believe had nothing to do with the crime (who happen to be more than half of all those detained). It turns out that because of the confessions of the man they believe committed the crime were made under torturous conditions, they won't hold up in court so he may get off. Tell me this: how quick would you be to forgive and forget if you were in that neighborhood?
So in summation, the numbers released by the Pentagon days before Obama took office appear to be slightly misleading. Additionally, one could easily make the argument that we have a larger national security issue on our streets thanks to unbelievably high recidivism rates for state offenders. On top of all this, the Pentagon considers those who make statements against the country that tortured and inhumanely (if not illegally) detained them "terrorists." The way I see it is this: if we have the evidence, convict the terrorists, if we do not have the evidence, then how do we know they're terrorists? Unfortunately, thanks to Bush and Co. policies, some legitimate terrorists may have to be let go due to illegal interrogation techniques (or continue to be held illegally). This is America: we pride ourselves on taking the moral high ground; land of the free and home of the brave. It takes much more courage to follow things such as the Geneva Conventions and other internationally agreed-upon rules (and also legally beneficial in the long run) than to sacrifice the freedom of some innocent people halfway across the world and defy the international community. So which path do we choose, bravery or cowardice? Peace.
Photos - Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay (CNN), A cell at Gitmo with a reading room in the inset (Wikipedia)