At a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing today, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) pointed to recent testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in which he acknowledged the reengagement rate for released Guantanamo Bay detainees is going up - not down. General James Mattis, Commander of Central Command, and Admiral William McRaven, Commander of Special Operations Command, appeared as witnesses before the panel.
Ayotte highlighted Director Clapper's previous testimony, which conflicts with a news report published this week suggesting that fewer freed detainees are reengaging in the terrorist fight. She explained that this statistic has consistently been described in terms of terrorists who are confirmed, or suspected, to have reengaged in terrorist activity. After the hearing, she also pointed to information released today by the Director of National Intelligence showing that as of December, 27.9 percent of former Guantanamo detainees have reengaged, or are suspected of having reengaged, in terrorist activity.
"Director Clapper said last year that the reengagement rate from former Guantanamo detainees who were confirmed or suspected of reengaging was 27 percent. In fact, just three weeks ago he was before this committee and he indicated that the reengagement rate of those who we have confirmed are in the fight, or suspected to be reengaging, had actually increased to close to 28 percent," said Senator Ayotte, in a statement.
"Last year, then-Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary Vickers, the Under Secretary for Defense Intelligence, cited similar statistics, based on those confirmed or suspected of having rejoined hostilities," Ayotte continued. "One of the reasons so many of these cases are not yet confirmed is due to the fact that we have difficulty tracking these terrorists after they've been released. We often don't learn of the whereabouts of these former Guantanamo detainees until they are involved in some terrorist attack or until they assume a leadership position in a terrorist organization - further demonstrating the need for a designated facility for the long-term detention and interrogation of terrorists consistent with the laws of war."
During today's SASC hearing, Ayotte also raised questions about two notorious released Guantanamo detainees - Said Al Shirhi and Abdul Zakir. General Mattis confirmed for Ayotte that Al Shirhi is now the Number Two military commander with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and is "engaged in active operations." Zakir, Mattis said, is a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. Mattis confirmed that both former detainees are engaged in activities to kill Americans or our allies.
"I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for our troops to encounter someone we've already had in detention," said Senator Ayotte. Referring to former detainees who have returned to terrorist activities, she added, "One terrorist reengaging us is too many."
In response to Ayotte's question about whether there is a plan in place for where terrorists like Al Shirhi and Zakir would be held, if recaptured, Mattis confirmed there is no designated facility to detain them if they were captured tomorrow.
"I would hope that we would not bring those two individuals to the United States of America. I'd have a hard time explaining that to my constituents when we have the availability of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," said Ayotte.