The House Armed Services Committee’s investigative branch disclosed in a report yesterday that 27 percent of the 600 detainees who have been released from Gitmo, a U.S. detention center based in Cuba, have returned to their terrorist ways, raising questions about the Obama administration’s decision to potentially release several imprisoned Taliban fighters.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R., Va.), the report’s lead author, urged the administration to heed the report’s findings and refrain from making a politically expedient—yet potentially dangerous—decision regarding Gitmo’s remaining prisoners.
"I think [the report] certainly causes everyone to question that policy direction, whether or not those high-level detainees should be released," Wittman, chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said in an interview. "It brings up a lot of issues about how the decisions are made to return these detainees."
Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, more than 160 Gitmo alumni resumed radical or militant activities after being set free. Many of these detainees were deemed at the time of their release to be "a sufficiently low threat," according to the report.
The docket of detainees that the Obama administration may release includes some of the most ferocious Taliban fighters ever captured. One, for instance, has reportedly been accused of massacring thousands of Afghani civilians.
Given the committee’s findings, there is "probably a high likelihood [these detainees] would return to the battlefield," Rep. Wittman said. Therefore, "some tough questions" must be asked before the administration even considers releasing them.
Several GOP observers on Capitol Hill slammed the Obama administration for viewing release as a viable option. They argued that the report paints a startling picture of what could happen once the detainees are granted freedom.
"We detain these guys because they are dangerous. The evidence here suggests there’s a good chance released Taliban would find themselves back on the battlefield, pointing a weapon at US troops," said one GOP source. "That’s reckless policy, sloppy statecraft, and conduct unbecoming a wartime administration."
The committee’s report also states that both the current and previous administrations capitulated to public outrage over Gitmo.
"The Bush and Obama administrations, in reaction to domestic political pressures, a desire to earn goodwill abroad, and in an attempt to advance strategic national security goals, sought to ‘release’ or ‘transfer’ [Gitmo] detainees elsewhere," the report said.
"They look at it and say, ‘We’ll just send them back to the countries, and they’ll do what they do, the countries will take up ensuring these folks don’t reengage [in violence],’ but what we see is that’s not necessarily the case," Wittman explained.
Former detainees have been transferred to a range of countries over the years, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
In some instances, "despite earnest and well-meaning efforts" by both administrations, the executive branch signed off on release before "properly evaluating detainees and ensuring that their cases were handled appropriately by receiving countries," the report said.
The committee recommends that in order to better track freed detainees, the intelligence community—including the CIA and the Department of Defense—should report to Congress on the likelihood that a prisoner will reengage in violence. It also recommends that these organizations track released detainees more effectively.
"This is really about looking at the policy," Rep. Wittman said. "Let’s evaluate the policy and figure out where it’s not so good and where it’s good. Let’s refine the policy. We all see there are some challenges out there, and they need to be addressed because they’re not going to go away."