Assessing the Risk of Guantánamo Detainees

Brookings Institution, April 25, 2011

The press has discovered that it is shocked that America is releasing dangerous people from Guantánamo Bay. The New York Times reports, based on a new cache of Wikileaks documents, that Guantánamo detainees classified as low risk had turned out to be major terrorists, and that detainees classified as “high risk” turned out to be nothings. NPR reporter Tom Gjelten declares this morning that,

What we’ve learned that’s most striking is about how the Guantánamo commanders ranked the detainees by how dangerous they allegedly were. We’ve learned for the first time that the detainees were officially sorted by how likely they were to pose a threat to the United States if released. That was the standard. . . . We now see that more than a third of the detainees who have passed through Guantánamo since it opened are officially assessed as likely to pose a threat to the U.S. But many in that high-risk group were shipped out anyway. . . . At least 160 and maybe more. We’re being conservative here.


Let’s be clear: None of this is new. It isn’t new that some detainees have convinced the military that they posed little risk and then went on to do bad things. And it isn’t new that America has sent home lots of people whom it doesn’t regard as innocuous either. The breathless reporting of such facts is mystifying and damaging.

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