WASHINGTON -- On the ninth anniversary of the first detainee's arrival at the infamous prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Washington think tank challenged intelligence estimates suggesting that large numbers of former detainees have taken up arms against the United States.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claimed in December -- without offering any evidence -- that 13.5 percent of former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed, and an additional 11.5 percent are suspected of "reengaging" in terrorist or insurgent activities after their release.
The conservative media embraced the storyline that as many as one in four former detainees had returned to the battlefield, up sharply from the prior year.
But three scholars with the New America Foundation are out with a new report -- this one backed up with data -- concluding that only 6 percent of released detainees engaged or are suspected of having engaged with insurgents aimed at attacking U.S. interests. Another 2 percent engaged or are suspected of having engaged against non-U.S. targets.
Tom Wilner, a Washington attorney who argued on behalf of Guantanamo detainees in the Supreme Court's 2004 and 2008 cases in which they won habeas corpus rights, described the plight of one of his former clients, a Kuwaiti named Abdallah Saleh Ali Al Ajmi . "I was absolutely convinced that he did not do anything wrong," Wilner said. "But I was concerned about his release, because he had become furious. He had turned, at Guantanamo, into this sort of madman."
And indeed, less than three years after the Bush Administration sent him back to Kuwait, Al Ajmi carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq.
British freelance journalist Andy Worthington, who tracks Guantanamo detainees, said he was concerned at how the recidivism figures were "conjured up out of nowhere" but treated as fact by many mainstream media outlets. "It's bad journalism," he said.
Most reports also lacked context. "You don't have anything like a zero recidivism rate in any prison system," he said.
The figures were cited by conservatives in their arguments against closing Guantanamo. Democrats, afraid of the political repercussions, joined with Republicans to include provisions in the latest defense authorization bill intended to prevent Obama from closing Guantanamo.
Obama last week called those provisions "dangerous and unprecedented."
"Every day that a place like Guantanamo is open is an insult to values that decent American people hold," Worthington said.
"I am furious and ashamed," Wilner said. "I think Guantanamo is a symbol for fear and weakness."