Fresh off a tour in Afghanistan, U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk wasted no time yesterday warning about the dangers of releasing suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay.
KIRK: Another issue I found, and this is probably the most controversial, is the role of Gitmo detainees in this conflict. All of the major leaders of the Taliban in the south are former Gitmo releasees. All of them.
The unclassified number is that 61 former releasees are now waging jihad against the United States. And the principal commander killing our forces in the south of Afghanistan is Mullah Zakir who was released from Guantanamo Bay. I would urge the administration to stop all further releases from Guantanamo because otherwise they enter our battlespace.
So where did that "61 former releasees" figure come from? It was included in an unclassified February 2009 Department of Defense report which found that 14 percent of former Gitmo prisoners subsequently resumed extremist activity. Yesterday, the Pentagon updated those statistics, showing a slight uptick this past year in the recidivism rate for former prisoners, although specifics remain classified.
But those statistics deserve a heavy grain of salt. Multiple independent studies last year, by the New America Foundation and professors at Seton Hall University, found that the 14 percent estimate was likely inflated. For instance, as the American Prospect's Adam Serwer noted yesterday, the Seton Hall team found that the Pentagon included in their list "several detainees who had participated in a film critical of Guantanamo Bay."
More importantly, the Pentagon itself admitted that 43 of the former prisoners were only suspected of returning to the battlefield. Indeed, at a January 2009 press conference, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell clarified: "The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight." Of course, that important distinction was omitted from Kirk's assertion that all 61 of these former prisoners"are now waging jihad against the United States."
Considering that distortion, why should we believe his uncorroborated claim that "all the major leaders of the Taliban in the south [of Afghanistan] are former Gitmo releasees"?