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Thursday, May 21, 2009

"1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds "

Is was the headline to an article on recidivism by prisoners released from Guantanamo by Elisabetth Bumiller in the New York Times.

update: Did I get results ?* The Headline is now "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees." So the strong and unsupported claim that former Guantanamo inmates have rejoined the fight has been watered down to a "Terror Link."

Also, seperately and in addition, as explained here, the word "Returned" was deleted, since it implies the assumption that the people locked up in Guantanamo were terrorists before they were locked up. Without any evidence on the matter, upon reconsideration, the Times decided not to dismiss the hypothesis that imprisonment caused people who had never had anything to do with terrorism may have been driven to "link" with terrorism by their imprisonment.

Now they didn't use my suggested headlines, which were long and clumsy. Maybe if they had read the comment they would have gotten one they could use.

* This is an attempt at humor.

update II: NYT still strugling. Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet says the new headline and lede were no big deal and argues that "The story was about the estimate of the number of people who ended up, by DOD's account, as being engaged in terrorism or militant activity after leaving Gitmo." On a topic different from that of my post, Josh Marshall argues back that "phrasing speaks to important assumptions." Marshall does not, however, note, the total dishonesty of the phrasing "terrorism or militant activity." That phrasing is an attempt to mislead.

I'd say the reasonable non deceptive phrasing would be "militant activity." Terrorism is always and by definition militant activity, therefore the set of acts which are "terrorism or militant activity" is identical to the set which are "militant activity." The words "terrorism or" are redundant, do not change the denotation. When un-needed words are added, there must be a rhetorical reason. In this case, the totally un-necessary observation that terrorism was counted among the militant activities along with who knows what all else, might trick the careless reader into thinking that the 14% had committed some act of terrorism. Even the careful reader might assume that the proportion between terrorism and other acts of militancy in the sample was not totally lopsided. In fact, the article lists only 3 terrorist acts, all of which were publicly known before the report was leaked. One other case is counted but not described. The remaining 70 cases of people who returned to were linked to terror were not described as actually committing acts of terror in the report.

The DOD is attempting to argue that everyone who associates with terrorists is a terrorist. Baquet is attempting to assist this effort by suggesting that 3 out of 74cases should be specifically mentioned when explaining the importance of the number 74.

end updates and back to my original post.

In the article 1 in 178 reported actually, you know, fighting.

Bumiller first presents the all anonymous discussion of whether the DOD is supressing information embarrassing to Obama. Then the patient reader gets to read some numbers.

From Paragraph 7:
"The report, a copy of which was made available to The New York Times, says the Pentagon believes that 74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism,..."

Paragraph 14:
"Among the 74 former prisoners that the report says are again engaged in terrorism, 29 have been identified by name by the Pentagon, including 16 named for the first time in the report. The Pentagon has said that the remaining 45 could not be named because of national security and intelligence-gathering concerns."

Paragraph 16:"The Pentagon has so far provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people who are identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided."

Good lord. What we have here is a 14% rate of, at least, "associating with." I would have thought that "returning to the fight" implied actual, you know, fighting. Can two people released from Guantanamo be counted as having returned to the fight if they associate with each other ? Nothing in the article is inconsistent with this usage. I personally have no doubt that the DOD would put them on the list. One possible explanation of why it hasn't been released is that it is obviously bogwash. A change in administration would cause a change in procedures for listing who has "returned to the fight" if the old administration were to have lied systematically about everything.

The article closes

In addition to Mr. Shihri and Mr. Rasoul, at least three others among the 29 named have engaged in verifiable terrorist activity or have threatened terrorist acts.

Abu Hareth Muhammad al-Awfi, a Saudi national who was released from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia in November 2007, and who is named on the most recent list of 16, appeared with Mr. Al-Shihri in a video released by Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch in January and reported by news organizations at the time. [snip]

Another on the list of 29 whose case has been widely reported is Abdullah Salih al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who was in Guantánamo from 2002 to 2005 and who subsequently carried out a suicide bomb attack in Mosul, Iraq, in 2008. The attack killed several Iraqi soldiers.

OK so there are 5 cases of terrorism or threatened terrorism. All have already been reported publicly. Of these, one isn't mentioned at all in the article (lack of space I guess why 5 whole names sure can't all be fit to print). One is guilty of appearing in a video. That leaves 3 (1 in 178) who have actually fought. All three cases were publicly known yesterday. The additional information in the report consists of vague claims which might amount to nothing at all even if the supporting claims of fact, which are not included in the report, are accurate.

DEpending on the 5th alleged actual case of actually returning to the fight, another headline could have been

"Top Secret Controversial Allegedly Supressed Report on Guantanamo recidivism reveals no links between former Guanatanamo prisoners and actual acts of Terrorism which are not already publicly known."

OK a bit long for a headline. How about

"Report describes no terrorism attacks by released prisoners which were not already known."

Those who read the article through to the end will, I think, get that impression. People who just read the headline and the first few paragraphs won't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

""Report describes no terrorism attacks by released prisoners which were not already known."

How about "No New Terrorist Attacks in Report."