As the New York Times reports, the Pentagon is sitting on a document that claims one in seven Guantanamo detainees released by the Bush administration returns* to terrorism. These claims have come up before and been debunked before. But it shouldn’t matter. If there’s a relevant piece of information for the Guantanamo debate, it should be released. If it can withstand scrutiny, it should be part of the debate. If it can’t, oh well. Setting policy based on insufficient information is obviously unwise.

Anyhow, the Times saw the document — it reports that it will probably be released soon anyhow, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman — and it claims a recidivism rate* of 14 percent of detainees. That’s at odds with Secretary Bob Gates’ claim of a "four or five percent" recidivism rate in January, but maybe this represents new data. (Has there been enough data since January to make such an uptick plausible? Hmm.)

This, however, doesn’t inspire confidence:

The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.

I would say "training with terrorists" is worrisome enough, and "associating" can mean a variety of things, but would justify, say, surveillance. Still, how political is this report?

Pentagon officials said there had been no pressure from the Obama White House to suppress the report about the Guantánamo detainees who had been transferred abroad under the Bush administration. The officials said they believed that Defense Department employees, some of them holdovers from the Bush administration, were acting to protect their jobs.

Just because someone is a Bush holdover doesn’t make them a bad person. Ask Bob Gates. But all of this is grounds for suspicion. The Times quotes one of the Seton Hall researchers who debunked the "61 detainees" report as saying, "It’s part of a campaign to win the hearts and minds of history for Guantánamo." Perhaps. But the document should be released and then we can judge for ourselves.

* "Return" and "Recidivism" are terms that imply we know that these detainees were terrorists to begin with. That’s presuming facts not in evidence. What we know is that they’ve been held at Guantanamo for years and presumed to be terrorists based on a battlefield evidentiary standard. In terms of framing, this is a poor and misleading shorthand. It’s easy to imagine, for instance, that someone who’s been detained under harsh conditions for years would be so infuriated that he would then become a terrorist.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman