The Future of Freedom Foundation
January 18, 2011
For several years now, one organization in the U.S. government has persistently undermined attempts to have a grown-up debate about the perceived dangerousness of prisoners at Guantánamo, and the need to bear security concerns in mind whilst also trying to empty the prison and to bring to an end this particularly malign icon of the Bush administration’s ill-conceived response to the 9/11 attacks.
That organization is the Pentagon, and its habit of issuing announcements regarding the alleged recidivism of prisoners released from Guantánamo — without documentation to back up its claims —- has also exposed a startling lack of journalistic integrity in the mainstream media. Although the Pentagon had regularly drip-fed alarmist reports about recidivism into the media during the Bush administration, which were picked up and reported despite their lack of sources and their often contradictory nature — as explained in a detailed report by researchers at the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey (PDF) — the propaganda war has become noticeably more bold under President Obama.
The first report under Obama, issued on May 21, 2009, gained high-profile approval when, to its shame, the New York Times uncritically published a front-page story entitled, “1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds,” in which Elisabeth Bumiller, relying on an advance copy of a Pentagon report, stated that “74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism, making for a recidivism rate of nearly 14 percent.”
In fact, the Pentagon had only provided names and “confirmation” for 27 of the 74 prisoners cited in the report, and there were doubts about the recidivism of some of the 27 prisoners named in the report, as was revealed a week later, when the Times allowed Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation to write an op-ed criticizing Bumiller’s article, in which they concluded, from an examination of the report (PDF), that a more probable figure for recidivism — based on the fact that there were “12 former detainees who can be independently confirmed to have taken part in terrorist acts directed at American targets, and eight others suspected of such acts” — was “about 4 percent of the 534 men who have been released.”