Recidivism rate for terror subjects in dispute

An Army guard wear a splash mask feeds a war-on-terror detainee through a slot in a steel prison door at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 on Oct. 19, 2011 in this prison handout picture.
An Army guard wear a splash mask feeds a war-on-terror detainee through a slot in a steel prison door at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 on Oct. 19, 2011 in this prison handout picture. US NAVY

The Obama administration and GOP senators are in a war of words over the percentage of terror suspects who have re-entered the fight after being released from the U.S. detention center at Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay – a debate at the center of President Barack Obama’s stepped-up effort to close the prison.

Republicans who introduced legislation this week to stop the transfer of detainees to foreign countries say roughly 30 percent of those released have rejoined the fight. Administration officials accuse the Republicans of conflating numbers and say the real recidivism rate is not nearly that high. The Associated Press could not independently confirm the recidivism rate for released detainees because it’s based on U.S. intelligence.

The legislation being proposed in the Senate would bar transfers to Yemen for two years, suspend the transfer of high- or medium-risk terror suspects for the same period and repeal the law that has allowed the administration to transfer prisoners to foreign countries and reduce the population at Guantánamo to 127 from a peak of close to 800. The bill also would prohibit transfers of terror suspects to foreign countries if there has been a confirmed case where an individual was transferred from Guantánamo and engaged in any terrorist activity.

What both sides are saying:


“This administration continues to irresponsibly release detainees from Guantánamo Bay. Many of these detainees have returned to the battlefields from which they came and are looking for ways to kill Americans and our allies.”

“Those that have been released from Guantánamo by not only this administration but the Bush administration as well, if you put those numbers together, we have almost a 30 percent suspected or confirmed cases of re-engagement of terrorism of those who have been released from Guantánamo.”


“We know for a fact that roughly 30 percent of those who have been released have re-entered the fight, and usually at a very high level because it’s a badge of honor to have been an inmate at Guantánamo Bay. So instead we’re going to continue to release batches of prisoners, according to this administration, with no plan, and the extreme likelihood that approximately 1 out of every 3 of them will re-enter the fight. We owe the men and women who are serving in the military better protection than that.”



“Opponents of closing Guantánamo … cite a 30 percent recidivism rate among former detainees. This assertion is deeply flawed. It combines those ‘confirmed' of having engaged in hostile activities with those ‘suspected.’ Focusing on the ‘confirmed' slashes the percentage nearly in half. Moreover, many of the ‘confirmed' have been killed or recaptured.”

In a recent op-ed, Sloan said there was a “vast difference” between those transferred before Obama signed an executive order in January 2009 to determine and review the disposition of 240 detainees who were still at Guantánamo at that time.

“Of the detainees transferred during this administration, more than 90 percent have not been suspected, much less confirmed, of committing any hostile activities after their release. The percentage of detainees who were transferred after the Obama-era review and then found to have engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities is 6.8 percent. While we want that number to be zero, that small percentage does not justify holding in perpetuity the overwhelming majority of detainees who do not subsequently engage in wrongdoing.”


As of July 15, 2014, 620 detainees have been transferred out of the detention facility.

Of the total, 107, or 17.3 percent, have been “confirmed of re-engaging,” which is defined as being directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities. Nearly half of those –48 – are now dead or in custody.

Of the total, 77, or 12.4 percent, are “suspected of re-engaging.” This category comprises detainees for whom it’s plausible that they are directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities, but it can’t be verified or is based only on information from a single source. Sixteen of these 77 are now dead or in custody.

Study the full U.S. intelligence directorate “reengagement of detainees formerly held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba” report here.