New GITMO Recidivism Report

The Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI) today released an updated report on the percentage of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay that return to terrorist activities.  The report attests:

“to the number of individuals formerly detained at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorist activities after release or transfer from such Naval Station.”

Here’s a snapshot of the table in the report:

Based on my back of the envelope calculation, this puts the combined rate of suspected and combined terrorist recidivists at just under 28%. After posting the rate on Twitter, @AlexOlesker noted that the recidivism rate for criminals is often quite higher.  He estimated about 60%-70%.  He also wondered if, in general, the U.S. is still underestimating the number that have returned to terrorism.  Good points by @AlexOlesker and here’s my take.

  • While the recidivism rate of terrorists may be only half of that of criminals, unfortunately, the acts of terrorists versus criminals tends to be far more catastrophic.  So while 30% is considerably less, the implications of these 30% returning to terrorism are quite a bit more severe than the average criminal.
  • I don’t think the report necessarily underestimates the number of terrorists known or suspected of returning to terrorism (the numerator).  However, I’m more wondering if we overestimate the denominator, i.e. the total pool of detainees returned to their home countries that could potentially return to terrorism.  Not all those that leave GITMO, have an equal opportunity to return to terrorism.  So there may actually be a smaller number of total detainees released that even have the possibility of returning to terrorism due to the scrutiny placed upon them after arriving back in their home country.
  • My last thought is that the recidivist rate likely varies considerably based on the home country of the detainees.  Essentially, some countries will have few recidivists and other countries will have many.  As a big focus of my research several years back, I focused not only on countries, but cities where foreign fighter recruits were coming from.  For those interested in terrorist recidivism, I’d estimate those returning to terrorism occurs in clusters based on social and environmental factors.  See this report for some background perspective.  See this for the data by country.