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Leaving Guantanamo: Political Dysfunction Disguised as Report

Statement of Mark Denbeaux, Seton Hall Law Professor and Director of the Center for Policy & Research, Regarding House Subcommittee Report on GTMO Detainee ‘Recidivism’

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee has issued a report which purports to address GTMO detainee “re-engagement.” The Republican majority’s report, Leaving Guantanamo, says more about dysfunction in Washington, even on matters critical to national security, than it does about the subsequent histories of former detainees. Entirely missing is any evidence about the vast majority of detainees who have begun or resumed normal lives and, in several cases, stood firm against terrorism or America’s enemies. Rather than being about former detainees as a group, Leaving Guantanamo focuses solely on the supposed failures of the release systems. That might be appropriate – but only if the Committee majority brought a clear-eyed, hardheaded look at the real facts. Instead, the Report not only recycles a variety of internally inconsistent Department of Defense press releases on the topic but entirely fails to acknowledge, much less come to grips with, the many questions that have been raised about those assertions. Nor can these pervasive failures be attributed merely to ineffective research or an overly deferential approach to Defense. The Committee was fully apprised of the shortcomings and errors in the Department of Defense’s public relations efforts. Rather than resolve the conflicting information, the Republican majority chose to turn a blind eye to any information that might cast doubt on the preordained conclusion that multitudes of detainees have “returned to the fight.” America deserves better, especially where national security is concerned.

Any comprehensive report on post-Guantanamo detainees would try to ascertain the successes and failures of as many detainees as possible. The Center provided the Committee with evidence of hundreds of detainees who have returned to normal lives, including attending college, going to law school, working as electricians and even working as translators for American soldiers in Afghanistan. In fact, in one case, a former detainee provided signal service to America, including warning the United States about a plot to send mailbombs into the country. In another instance, the ex-detainee seems to have been an important player in the Arab Spring uprising in Libya.

With respect to supposed “reengagement” of former detainees (downgraded from what used to be tagged “return to the battlefield,”) the Report repeats information the Department of Defense provided in a series of press releases using varying definitions of recidivism. Most of the supposed recidivists in those releases and again in Leaving Guantanamo are not named. While the DoD formerly named individuals who were never imprisoned in Guantanamo, the Committee majority does not name such individuals but does refer to a large number of unnamed detainees who may or may not include the misidentified individuals.

The Committee was fully informed about definitional and accuracy problems with prior DoD releases as was the American public in a series of reports by the Center for Policy and Research, which were notably cited by the Democratic minority dissent in Leaving Guantanamo. There is no hint in the majority report that any of these questions were raised by anyone or that the Committee undertook a disinterested investigation into the real facts.

Very early in the history of the detention center in Guantanamo, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the detainees were, by and large, “low level enemy combatants.” It would be more than a little surprising if, almost 10 years later, many of such individuals were active against United States interests. If one credits the current majority Committee Report, Rumsfeld must have been wrong. Maybe it’s possible that detainees have gotten more dangerous over time, but a Committee really interested in getting to the truth would have done far more than the majority seems to have done.


Seton Hall University School of Law, New Jersey’s only private law school, and a leading law school in the New York metropolitan area, is dedicated to preparing students for the practice of law through excellence in scholarship and teaching, with a strong focus on clinical education. The Center for Policy and Research enables students to gain practical experience while engaging in research and analysis that promotes respect for the rights of individuals worldwide. The students examine primary sources pertaining to national security law and the practices of the U.S. government, as well as the reliability of forensic evidence for criminal investigations and prosecution. Seton Hall Law is located in Newark, NJ and offers both day and evening degree programs. For more information, visit


Michael J. Ricciardelli, J.D.
Legal Media Officer
Office: 973-642-8823
Cell: 907-447-3034
Email: [email protected]

Professor Mark P. Denbeaux
Director, Seton Hall Law Center for Policy & Research
Office: 973-642-8822
Cell: 201-214-6785
Email: [email protected]

February 09, 2012