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Lawyers Assert That Pentagon Overstates Ex-Detainee Threat

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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Seton Hall law professor contends that the Defense Department has overestimated the number of former Guantanamo Bay detainees who became involved in terrorist activities after they were released from the military prison.

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Bush administration officials have long said that numerous former Guantanamo detainees have turned up on battlefields or have become involved in unspecified "anti-coalition militant activities." Defense officials put the number at 30 in a news release in July.

The Pentagon cited seven former detainees by name, saying they turned up on battlefields after leaving the prison, and it said there are 23 others who became involved in unspecified terrorist activity but did not name them.

In material they will deliver to a congressional committee today, however, Mark P. Denbeaux and his son, Joshua, who represent Guantanamo detainees, said the data lack specificity and include some former detainees who did nothing more than speak out publicly about their captivity.

They assert that the Pentagon has cited only 15 former Guantanamo detainees who have become involved in terrorist activities after their release.

Defense officials said yesterday that they have evidence about all 30 who, they say, participated in combat or lent support or financing to terrorist organizations.

"It doesn't matter if it's seven, 14, 30 or 50," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "The point we're trying to make is that we assume some risk in this. Even one is too many."

Mark Denbeaux, director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, plans to present the information to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing today on the legal rights of Guantanamo detainees. Denbeaux has been critical of Pentagon data regarding the threats the detainees pose, and his previous reports have drawn fire from defense officials.

"Department of Defense senior officials have publicly claimed that dozens of former Guantanamo detainees were captured or killed during battles with American forces following their release," Denbeaux wrote in a prepared statement for the committee. "This public representation was entirely inaccurate every time it was uttered."

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, also has disputed the Pentagon's assertions about the number of detainees who have returned to battle. He said it is part of a systematic effort to show that the numbers do not add up.

"Some people probably have gone back to, or begun for the first time, armed activity against the United States after leaving Guantanamo, but that number is clearly very small," Malinowski said.


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