Monday, January 26, 2009


Last week's Executive Order to close the Guantánamo detention camp by this time next year -- about which IntLawGrrl Kristine A. Huskey's posted above -- has touched off a flurry of debate in government and the media. Particularly noted is a resurgence of a phenomenon here labeled RTF, for "returned to the fight."
There've been occasional allegations over the years that a smattering of the 500 or so men freed from Guantánamo subsequently "returned to the fight." It was scarcely a surprise that such allegations intensified just as President Barack Obama made good on his campaign promise and set in motion closure of the camp.
Page 1 of Friday's New York Times thus told of an RTF-er now said to be an al Qaeda deputy in Yemen. The story appeared about a week after release of at of a pre-inauguration Pentagon report classifying fully 11% of all men and boys freed from GTMO as RTF.
But as CNN reported this weekend, "security experts" are "skeptical." (Video of a segment of the Rachel Maddow show, in which Seton Hall Law Professor Mark Denbeaux debunks the Pentagon's numbers, is here.) And though the head of the Pentagon -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the prior Cabinet -- did not dispute the numbers, CNN reported that he saw no cause for alarm:
'It's not as big a number if you're talking about 700 or a thousand or however many have been through Guantanamo.'
But these responses overlook a more fundamental problem at play in all RTF reports.
As my New York Times' Room for Debate blog post details, resort to the RTF catchphrase requires acceptance not only that a former detainee's now in the fight, but also that he was a fighter before his capture. All agree that was not the case with all GTMO detainees. (image credit)
Here's hoping that the new administration follows through on its commitment to undertaking a careful and concrete case-by-case analysis, rather than casting easy yet overbroad aspersions on a diverse detainee population.

(To GTMOre news, check out
Karen J. Greenberg's Washington Post op-ed on how, in the early days of detention, Pentagon civilians thwarted uniformed military lawyers' efforts to operate within the bounds of legal due process.)

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