The New York Times reports, “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.”
These findings, of course, strengthen arguments made by critics who “have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama’s plan to shut down the prison by January.”
But there is little value in numbers alone. They must be compared to something to hold significance. One in seven means little without comparison.
A 2002 “report based on the largest study ever conducted of the relapse into criminal behavior in the United States” found that “Sixty-seven percent of former inmates released from state prison in 1994 were charged with at least one serious new crime within the following three years, the U.S. Justice Department report shows.” Mind you these people have motivations unlike those in Guantánamo. But it does show that one in seven may not actually be so frightening.
But there are better comparisons to be made. Saudi Arabia, for instance, treats its Guantánamo equivalent as a rehabilitation center.
“The goal of the rehab program is to give the “students” a stable social network that doesn’t rely on terrorist organizations. Detainees eat and cook communally and live in rooms with fellow prisoners. Family members visit regularly, and detainees can phone them whenever they want. They can even request furlough for weddings and funerals. Families also receive generous stipends, since prisoners can’t earn money.”
Don’t count on that approach under American supervision. But Saudi Arabia doesn’t act alone. Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Sinagpore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and now Iraq have similar programs. Interestingly, each of these countries, with the exception of Singapore, is a majority Muslim state.
“So, does rehab work? Recidivism figures come from the local governments [in Saudi Arabia], so they aren’t particularly reliable. The Saudis claim that, since 2003, they have converted and released 1,400 participants; as of 2008, only 35 of them—or 2 percent—had been rearrested.”
So are the detainees really too bad to rehabilitate or are our techniques inferior to the Saudis? I don’t know.