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Former Detainees Released by U.S. Rejoining Fight

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2004 – Of the roughly 200 detainees the United States has released from its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, intelligence claims that at least 10 returned to terrorist activity, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs said here Nov. 2.

Matthew Waxman, in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, said former detainees rejoining the fight are a concern for the Defense Department, but so are their rights.

Waxman said that from the beginning of the war on terror, the president has made clear that U.S. armed forces would treat all detainees humanely. That includes releasing individuals who have been determined to pose a sufficiently low risk of returning to violence, he said. But with no formula for making that determination, DoD doesn't want to hold anyone longer than is necessary. It's all about managing risks, he said, not eliminating them.

"It's a case-by-case determination of, not only the threat that an individual detainee would pose, but also the continuing intelligence value or law enforcement value of an individual," he said.

Officials realize, he said, that any decision to release a detainee from custody who was picked up on the battlefield carries a risk of that individual returning to the fight. In light of that realization, he continued, all available information is considered to determine the amount of risk posed by releasing an individual. And the process is evolving as DoD learns from experience.

"This has been an evolutionary process. We're always looking to improve the way that we analyze cases and make determinations," Waxman said. "One important change has been the development of a formalized procedure -- an annual administrative review board procedure that's going to be run by the secretary of the Navy."

The board will determine which individuals need to be detained at Guantanamo and which can be transferred to their home country, he said.

Thus far, 202 detainees have been released or transferred from Guantanamo. Some have been released outright, and others have been transferred to their home countries' government for further detainment, Waxman said.

That 10 of those individuals released returned to terrorist activity only confirms what DoD officials understood from the beginning, he said. "These are dangerous individuals," he continued, "and it's important that we detain them, both to keep them off the battlefield and to learn what we can from them."

It also proves the critical nature of the work being done at Guantanamo Bay, Waxman said.

Not only have individuals been kept off the battlefield, the detentions have allowed the United States to gain information from the detainees through questioning, Waxman explained. It has also provided the chance to bring some of the individuals to justice, he said, whether through military tribunals or prosecution in their home countries.

Steps can be taken to lessen the chances that any more individuals released will return to terrorist activity, he said, the most important being to work with coalition partners to negotiate agreements by which detainees can be transferred back to their home countries. By working with coalition governments, Waxman said, the United States is taking a step to try to mitigate the risk that any individual released will return to terrorist activity.

While efforts continue to refine procedures for releasing detainees, work also continues to improve procedures for handling detainees in the field, particularly in Iraq, Waxman said, most notably through improved facilities. Also, multinational forces in Iraq are working closely with the Iraqi government with the goal of having Iraqi forces shoulder the responsibility of detaining individuals who fight against peace and stability in the country.

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