Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who ya gonna believe?

From the front page of today's NYT:
Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees
Published: May 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.
Buried deep in the article, on page 16, is the information that this is only the latest of several such official Pentagon "estimates" that have varied wildly.

... and tho' the article does cite research by Prof. Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall Law School questioning previous estimates, the details of Dr. Denbeaux's studies are not discussed.

Here's a link:
From Dr. Denbeaux's report:
Time and time again, the Department of Defense, the Executive Branch, and other
government officials have claimed publicly that Guantánamo Bay detainees who have been
released have “returned to the battlefield” where they have then been re-captured or killed. On January 13, 2009, during a press conference the Department of Defense provided its 43rd attempt to report on the number of detainees released from Guantanamo who returned to the battlefield.
This latest report alleges that 61 detainees have returned to the battlefield. This report seeks to examine the last numbers.
1. The 43rd attempt to enumerate the number of detainees who have returned to the battlefield is false by the Department of Defense’s own data and prior reports.

2. In each of its forty-three attempts to provide the numbers of the recidivist detainees, the Department of Defense has given different sets of numbers that are contradictory and internally inconsistent with the Department’s own data.

3. The Department of Defense does not keep track of released detainees nor does it follow their post release conduct.

4. The Department of Defense’s previous statements about the post release conduct of former Guantanamo detainees were produced in writing in July 2007 and May 2008.

5. The January 13, 2009 press statement identifies no names, dates, places nor any conduct by released detainees. The raw numbers that are cited are unsupported, inconsistent with all other statements and appear to be presented to support the internal Department of Defense purposes.

[emphasis added]
The latest report - the subject of the NYT's frontpage article, does give names:
Among the 74 former prisoners that the report says are again engaged in terrorism, 29 have been identified by name by the Pentagon, including 16 named for the first time in the report. The Pentagon has said that the remaining 45 could not be named because of national security and intelligence-gathering concerns.
Reading the NYT article you'd not learn that this is the 44th Pentagon estimate of Gitmo recidivism.

The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.
There is no mention of the Pentagon's methodology in coming up with the numbers.

Given that this is apparently the 44th attempt by DoD to quantify the recidivism rate of released Gitmo detainees, and that it reports a 44th set of numbers - different from the previous 43 - I think we should all be a bit skeptical...

... AND, we should all be asking: why did the NYT include this on the front page, with only the vaguest hint that the report's conclusions may be questionable???

I note in passing that the NYT has a less-than-sterling reputation when it comes to critical reporting on the GWOT (see, e.g., Judith Miller, Jayson Blair). More often than not, the Times has simply been an unfiltered conduit for administration propaganda.

[... and why was this preliminary report released just as discussion of closing Gitmo is all in the news - co-incident with GOP fearmongering about releasing terrorists into our neighborhoods?]

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