As the administration of President Barack Obama whittles down the numbers of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, transferring 15 men to the United Arab Emirates this week, some members of Congress, including Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, are once again making alarmist claims about the released detainees’ supposed dangerousness. Calling those released “among the worst terrorists,” Ayotte warned that Obama was jeopardizing national security by freeing them and planning for the release of others. Despite the vehemence with which these claims are made, the basis for them is remarkably misguided.
The bottom line is that many of those who have been detained in Guantánamo for the last 15 years were never involved in terrorism to begin with. The reported number of those who have become involved in terrorism after their release is low—and even that number is contested. The greatest danger that Guantánamo poses to U.S. national security is its potency as a symbol of injustice—the product of holding hundreds of people for years without due process and its association with rendition and torture—as it often feeds into terrorist propaganda. That is one reason why former President George W. Bush, as well as U.S. national security leaders, such as former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have supported shutting Guantánamo down.
In arguing against the release of the detainees, Ayotte cited a report issued by the Pentagon on August 10 that elaborated on the background of the 107 prisoners who were still in Guantánamo as of last November. She highlighted the few lines about them that included what extremist groups they had allegedly been associated with and actions they had taken in support of those groups, which the government had used for years to justify the continued detentions. The information tracks with the 2008 classified military assessments of detainees that WikiLeaks leaked to the public in 2011. But these assessments contain unreliable information, derived in many
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