Kerry: Concerns That Freed Taliban Will Return to Terror a ‘Lot of Baloney’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 9, 2014 | 4:18am EDT

A photo on a Pasho-language news site shows the former Guantanamo Bay detainees being welcomed by Taliban officials in Qatar on Monday, June 2, 2014. (Photo:

( – Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday called concerns that some of the recently-freed Taliban leaders could resume their violent anti-U.S. campaign “a lot of baloney,” but an intelligence assessment touted by his department just days ago shows that three in ten former Guantanamo Bay detainees are either known or suspected to have returned to “terrorist activities.”

“I just think that’s a lot of baloney, to be truthful with you,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union,” when he was asked about concerns that the five senior Taliban figures freed and flown to Qatar in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could return to the fight and kill Americans again.

“And to whatever degree it may be true, they will wind up putting themselves at the mercy of those people who are very effective, who are there [in Afghanistan], who will deal with those matters.”

A report by the director of national intelligence (DNI), published on March 5, shows that as of January 14 this year, 104 out of the total 614 Guantanamo detainees transferred to their home countries or third countries, or 16.9 percent, were “confirmed” to have returned to terrorism.

A further 74 former detainees, or 12.1 percent, were “suspected” of having returned to terrorism. Together, those amount to 29 percent, or just under three in 10.

The report, required under fiscal year 2012 intelligence authorization legislation, defines terrorist activities as “planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, and arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations.”

“Confirmed” return to terrorism requires “a preponderance of information” identifying a specific individual as directly involved; a person is “suspected” of returning to terror based on “plausible but unverified or single-source reporting.”

On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf drew attention to the report on her Twitter feed: “DNI chart makes clear we’ve significantly reduced reengagement rate of #Gitmo detainees after new process in place,” she tweeted, linking to the report.

Harf’s tweet was evidently designed to underline the fact the reoffending rate of former Guantanamo detainees has dropped significantly under the Obama administration. At a press briefing the same day, she told reporters, “Our recidivism rate has dropped substantially since the previous administration,” as a result of “processes” it has put in place.

The DNI report shows clearly that that is the case. Before January 22, 2009, 99 out of the then total 532 released detainees (18.6 percent) were confirmed to have returned to terrorism; of the 82 former detainees transferred from the prison after that date, five (6.1 percent) were confirmed to have done so.

Nonetheless, the processes put in place by the current administration – involving an interagency review board including the intelligence community, military, departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security – have not guaranteed complete success, the report shows.

Not just Afghanistan

Although Kerry on CNN referred to Afghanistan – he noted that the U.S. combat role there was coming to an end – critics of the Bergdahl-Taliban swap have not limited their concern to future violence in Afghanistan alone.

One of the most notorious former Guantanamo detainees, Abu Sufian bin Qumu, is an al-Qaeda associate who was captured after fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan but is a Libyan. Released and transferred to Libya in 2007, he later became a leader in the Ansar al-Sharia, the terrorist group implicated in the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Another former Guantanamo inmate captured after fighting for the Taliban who returned to terrorism was Said Ali al-Shihri. Released and transferred to Saudi Arabia in 2007, he underwent a Saudi government “rehabilitation” program before moving to Yemen and resuming his jihad against America, helping to establish the al-Qaeda affiliate there, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

When the State Department designated AQAP as a foreign terrorist organization in 2010 it said al-Shihri “helps carry out terrorist acts by generating targets, recruiting new members, assisting with training and attack planning, and tasking others in the preparation of attacks.”

Al-Shihri was reported to have died in early 2013, of injuries sustained in a drone strike.

The latest DNI report, using similar language to previous ones, said that, “Based on trends identified during the past eleven years, we assess that if additional detainees are transferred without conditions from GTMO, some will reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities.  Transfers to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment by insurgent and terrorist organizations pose a particular problem.”

A year ago President Obama lifted a self-imposed ban on transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, a move that drew criticism given the instability in the poor Gulf state and the growing threat posed by AQAP.

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