By Karen DeYoung
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; A03
None of about 48 Guantanamo Bay detainees released or transferred elsewhere by the Obama administration has participated or been suspected of participating in subsequent "recidivist" activity, compared with 20 percent of about 540 detainees released by the George W. Bush administration, according to White House counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan.
"We believe that significant improvements to the detainee review process have contributed to significant improvements in the results," Brennan said in a letter Monday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The 20 percent, or about 117 former detainees, is considerably higher than an estimate of 14 percent the Pentagon made last year.
In his letter, written in response to questions lawmakers raised last month in the wake of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, Brennan said 9.6 percent of all released prisoners were "confirmed recidivists" while 10.4 percent were "detainees who the Intelligence Community suspects, but is not certain, may have engaged in recidivist activities."
"I want to underscore the fact that all of these cases relate to detainees released during the previous administration and under the prior detainee review process," he said. He described the current review process as "robust" and far more intensive than that under the Bush administration, during which he said classified information held by one intelligence agency often was not available to other agencies.
Responsibility for the failed Dec. 25 attack aboard a flight from Amsterdam was asserted by Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that includes several Yemenis released from Guantanamo Bay in recent years. It led President Obama to suspend plans to transfer about 60 Yemeni detainees who had been cleared by a Justice Department-led task force for repatriation or resettlement in third countries. About 192 detainees remain at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.
Republicans and some Democrats who oppose the administration's plans to close Guantanamo Bay have cited the bombing attempt as additional evidence that those plans should be reversed and that Yemen is too unstable to adequately monitor or incarcerate repatriated prisoners.
Brennan sent a similar letter Monday to Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), an outspoken critic of the release plans. At a briefing Jan. 13, Wolf charged that a Yemeni sent home in December, Ayman Batarfi, had once been involved in weapons of mass destruction and should have been kept at Guantanamo Bay. Brennan's letter included a classified addendum that he said demonstrates that there is "no basis for [Wolf's] assertions."
Wolf, who has called on the administration to declassify all information about prisoners it repatriates or sends to third countries, said in an interview that he remains dissatisfied about Batarfi. Several of the detainees Obama has transferred "clearly shouldn't have gone back," Wolf said. "This is one."