(CNSNews.com) – A new Pentagon finding that one in five terror suspects released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center has returned to terrorist activities has not weakened the Obama administration's commitment to close the prison.
Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday that Pentagon officials are working to declassify the report showing that almost 20 percent of the prisoners released from Guntanamo Bay in Cuba are either confirmed or suspected to have engaged in terrorism again.
That’s almost double the 11-percent recidivism rate reported in December 2008. By April 2009, the recidivism rate had climbed to 14 percent, according to previous Pentagon studies.
President Barack Obama affirmed Tuesday that his administration would proceed with plans to shut down Gitmo.
“Make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda,” Obama said Tuesday, when he also announced that no more detainees would be released to Yemen.
The Yemen decision came after 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – who had been acting on instructions from al Qaeda operatives in Yemen – attempted to blow up an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight over Michigan on Christmas Day.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday he had not seen the Pentagon report and did not know if there was a new date for closing Gitmo. But he did not believe the findings would not make it more difficult to close the prison.
“I think you heard the president say yesterday we are committed to closing Guantanamo,” Gibbs told reporters. “You heard the president enunciate clearly that one of the explicit reasons mentioned in very early recruiting material from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was the existence of Guantanamo Bay.”
Gibbs did not know if recidivism rates would have any bearing on when the prison would be closed. The president initially called for closing the prison in January 2010, but that is not expected to happen.
“We never had a plan to transfer anybody either to their home country or to a third country that we believe – we have reason to believe will present a security situation for us or for that country,” Gibbs said.
The prison formerly held 750 detainees and is now down to 198. Of those, roughly 91 reportedly are from Yemen. U.S. officials think two Saudis released from Guantanamo, one in 2006 and the other in 2007, may have played significant roles in al Qaeda activities in Yemen, the Associated Press reported.
The rising number of released suspects returning to terror should not be a surprise, said James Carafano, a national security expert with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“So many prisoners have been released, we are running into a dry hole,” Carafano told CNSNews.com. “For nobody to be back on the battlefield would be difficult.”
The federal government plans to use an Illinois prison facility to house about 100 prisoners that will be transferred away from Gitmo.
Carafano is fearful that a judge could parole some of these terror suspects once they are in the United States and believes shutting down Gitmo is the wrong approach.
He finds the administration’s argument that Gitmo is a recruiting tool laughable.
“Any detention center would be a recruiting tool for terrorists,” Carafano said. “Prisons are recruiting tools for gangs. Are we going to shut down all prisons? Do they believe the Illinois Gitmo won’t be a recruiting tool?”