WASHINGTON — The release of five senior Taliban figures in exchange for the only U.S. soldier in captivity has put the spotlight on a controversial and much-debated aspect of the 12-year-old war against terrorism: How many of the detainees transferred out of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have returned to the fight?
About 614 detainees held at the detention center since it opened in 2002 have been sent home or resettled in third countries by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, according to the most recent version of a biannual report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and required by Congress. Of those, 104 — 16.9 percent — are confirmed to have returned to terrorist activity of some kind, the report says. An additional 74 former detainees — 12.1 percent — are suspected of engaging in terrorist activities, defense officials say.
The military says it uses fingerprints, DNA analysis and "well-collaborated intelligence reporting" to verify who has rejoined al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, the office said in a fact sheet published in 2009.
The detainee statistics released by the Pentagon have been challenged. In particular, a project conducted at Seton Hall University suggested that evidence against former detainees listed in the "suspected" category was sometimes flimsy. Seton Hall also highlighted a number of past detainees who started careers as diplomats, businessmen and in other civilian jobs.
The issue of tracking former prisoners has become current again as analysts assess the backgrounds of the five detainees released in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed Saturday in an elaborate swap with the Taliban. The sergeant was exchanged for five men who are considered by some critics of the deal to be at high risk of becoming involved in additional attacks against the United States and its allies.
"I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.