Fact-Check: Trump Is Wrong About Guantánamo Detainees

The following article by Charlie Savage was posted on the New York Times March 7, 2017:

A United States soldier inside the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

President Trump said on Tuesday on Twitter that “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!”

Is that true?

No, what Mr. Trump wrote is false.

What is true?

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, of the 714 former Guantánamo Bay detainees who were transferred to other countries by Jan. 15, 2017 — dating back to when the Bush administration opened the prison in Cuba in January 2002 — 121 are “confirmed” to have engaged in militant activity after their release.

However, the overwhelming majority of those 121 men, 113 of them, were transferred under President George W. Bush, not President Barack Obama.

Notably, about half of the men deemed recidivists are dead or in custody.

Why is Mr. Trump writing about Guantánamo recidivism today?

Probably because on Monday the Pentagon announced that an American airstrike in Yemen several days ago, which targeted Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, killed a former Guantánamo Bay detainee. The ex-detainee, known as Mohammed Tahar at the time he was imprisoned in Cuba, had been repatriated to Yemen in December 2009, under the Obama administration.

Why did most of the so-called recidivists come from Bush-era releases?

One reason is that most of the former Guantánamo detainees in the world departed the prison under Mr. Bush: 532 of the 714 former detainees who left the prison alive departed under Mr. Bush. That is because Mr. Bush decided in his second term that, as he wrote in his memoir, “the detention facility had become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies,” and he started trying to close it.

But it is also true that in terms of percentages, Bush-era releases have been more likely to cause problems than Obama-era releases: About 35 percent of Bush-era transfers are confirmed or suspected of causing problems, while about 11.5 percent of Obama-era transfers fall into one of those two categories, according to the intelligence director’s office.

The difference is because the Bush administration struck diplomatic deals to repatriate large batches of prisoners to countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan in bulk, and many recidivists come from those batches. By contrast, the Obama administration developed an individualized review process by six agencies to determine whether to recommend transferring each detainee. Over time, it also developed more careful diplomatic and monitoring plans with receiving countries to ease their reintegration into society that reduced, but obviously did not eliminate, the risk of recidivism.