Pentagon releases report on 107 Gitmo detainees

Guantanamo's Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay © Lucas Jackson
A Republican US senator has compelled the Department of Defense to release a comprehensive, unclassified report on the background of 107 detainees at or recently released from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

In a quest to ensure 'Gitmo' remains open amid her reelection campaign, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) has released the Pentagon report to the public. The 33-page synopsis offers details on the backgrounds of 107 detainees held at Gitmo as of November 2015. More than two dozen of those detainees have since been transferred out of the prison to accepting nations.

Ayotte said the report proves the Obama administration's efforts to transfer detainees – many held indefinitely without charge – is "terribly misguided." She believes the inmates held at Gitmo "are the worst of the worst," Reuters reported.

"While the Department of Defense watered down information and failed to provide key details regarding some detainees, the report still provides Americans with a consolidated, unclassified source of information regarding the dangerous terrorists at Guantanamo who the administration has recently released or plans to release soon," Ayotte told the AP.

Of the 76 detainees remaining at Gitmo, 34 have been cleared for release. About 800 inmates have been released from the prison camp since its opening in 2002. Most of those transfers occurred during the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.

"The more Americans understand about the terrorist activities and affiliations of these detainees, the more they will oppose the [Obama] administration's terribly misguided plans to release them," Ayotte said, according to AFP.

Ten of the current detainees are facing a criminal trial, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of devising the September 11, 2001 attacks. 

Other detainees have low-profile backgrounds, including Abdul Zahir, who worked as a bookkeeper and translator for Al-Qaeda because his family was threatened, and Muhammad Said Salim bin Salman, who "worked on the frontlines" with Al-Qaeda, the report says, "possibly as a cook."

David Remes, a lawyer representing several detainees, said that the ongoing indefinite detention without charge is a "stain" on the credibility of the US government.

"Holding the men at all was a deep injustice and a lasting stain on the U.S. These men shouldn’t have been in Guantanamo in the first place," Remes said, according to AP. "It’s one thing to prosecute detainees for attacks on the US… It is quite another thing – and contrary to the values the US says it is committed to – to hold men for many years, who are accused of no crime."

The Pentagon said the information included in the report "is excerpted from publicly-available documents available on US government websites." It is unclear if any of the information included in the report was acquired via torture, a fact that has complicated criminal trials of even the highest-level detainees at Guantanamo.

"In some cases, the information is several years old," Pentagon spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Valerie Henderson said, according to AFP. "The document does not contain all of the information available on all US government websites about each detainee."

Ayotte said the report indicates that remaining detainees "will no doubt" be inspired to fight the US once released. She said the Defense Department considers 93 percent of detainees at Gitmo as of last last year as high-risk terror threats.

A confirmed seven of the 144 of Gitmo detainees who have been transferred out during the Obama administration – five percent – have since engaged in "terrorist or insurgent activities,"according to a May report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That is compared to a confirmed 111 of 532 (21 percent) of detainees who have done so since being released by the Bush administration.

The Obama administration pledged to close the prison in 2009, but has since been unable to overrule opposition in Congress and within its own ranks. The administration has transferred 162 of about 240 detainees since Obama assumed office on January 20, 2009.

Ayotte has sought to release to the public the information included in the report for months. The Pentagon initially had until January 24, 2016, to offer the report to Congress, but missed that deadline. Ayotte responded by blocking a nomination vote for the department's candidate for general counsel. The Pentagon then gave a report to Congress on April 8, but much of the information remained classified. Ayotte lifted her hold on the nominee once the Pentagon gave her an unclassified version of the report in June.

The New Hampshire Republican is known as one of the "three amigos" along with fellow Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), noted for bellicose views on US foreign policy and national security matters, as well as consistent advocacy for ever-higher Pentagon budgets.