NBC News and news services
updated 2/9/2012 2:43:47 PM ET 2012-02-09T19:43:47

The United States cannot consistently ensure that former Guantanamo Bay detainees will not engage in militant activity once they are released from the military prison or transferred to a third country, a new congressional report found Thursday.

The report from the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee examined efforts by the Obama and Bush administrations to move detainees from the military prison in Cuba, which has held 779 prisoners since it opened in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

According to an unclassified version of the report obtained by Reuters, some 27 percent of the 600 former detainees who were moved out of Guantanamo had been "confirmed or suspected to be presently or previously engaged in terrorist activities."

Over the years, detainees have been transferred to countries such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, Spain and Denmark.

See the original report here

"The Bush and Obama administrations, reacting to domestic political pressures and a desire to earn goodwill abroad, sought to reduce the Guantanamo population by sending detainees elsewhere," it said.

"Both administrations faced the persistent challenge of ensuring that the potential threat posed by each detainee had been aptly assessed before transfer or release, and that the countries that received the detainees had the capacity and willingness to handle them in a way that sufficiently recognized the dangers involved," it added.

"Despite earnest and well-meaning efforts by officials in both administrations, the re-engagement rate suggests failures in one or both aspects of the process," it said.

'A challenge'
The report said that evaluating detainees and ensuring their cases were handled "appropriately" by receiving countries "was, and remains, a challenge."

As of Jan. 1, 779 individuals have been held at Guantanamo, 600 have left the installation, eight died there and 171 remain, the report said, citing the Defense Department.

According to the report, five of 66 detainees who left Gitmo in the 20 months between February 2009 and October 2010 are confirmed (two) or suspected (three) by the intelligence community of involvement in terrorist or insurgent activities, or a 7.5 percent re-engagement rate.

It recommended that the Obama administration produce a study on Guantanamo detainees' recidivism and provide Congress with an analysis of how well countries that have or might receive detainees can manage such individuals.

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The Committee Chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement obtained by NBC News that the report is proof that detainee release policies need to change.

"It appears that, despite well intentioned and sincere efforts by government officials, our detainee release policy could be unnecessarily risky and potentially harmful to U.S. national security," McKeon said. "We must do a better job addressing the problems with detainees releases and reengagement concerns."

"We have great reservations about releasing detainees because of the clear evidence that they end up back on the battlefield," House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, told reporters at a news conference.

The report is one more indication of the struggle that President Barack Obama has faced in his efforts to shut down the controversial military prison, which has been a flashpoint for worldwide criticism of the U.S. response to terrorism.

Study: Homegrown terrorism threat recedes, but anxiety remains high

It also comes as the White House considers transferring five senior Taliban officials to Qatar as part of its efforts to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan, another idea that has already generated significant pushback from Congress.

No detainees have been transferred out of Guantanamo since January 2011, in large part because of congressional restrictions. Congress has also voted repeatedly to limit transfer of detainees to the United States for trial.

Video: Exclusive: Lakhdar Boumediene, former Guantanamo detainee (on this page)

Late last year, lawmakers also imposed additional transfer restrictions in a defense authorization bill.

'Dumbing down'
While the report, headed by the Republican subcommittee chair, Robert Wittman, was originally conceived of as a bipartisan effort, committee Democrats issued a lengthy dissent that disagreed with much of its findings.

They accused Republicans of fear-mongering for political gain, ahead of November's election that Democrat Obama hopes will give him a second term.

Slideshow: Life goes on in Guantanamo (on this page)

"The Armed Services Committee is not accustomed, and should not lower itself, to wearing blinders, dumbing down information, and hinting darkly, all in order to attempt a partisan advantage," Representative Jim Cooper, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, said in a statement.

Democrats also disputed the report's assertion that more than a quarter of former Guantanamo prisoners were possible militants, saying the true figure was far lower.

Last week, the Defense Department said that as of December 2010, 14 percent of the nearly 600 detainees who had left Guantanamo were confirmed of later taking part in militant activity, and 12 percent were suspected of such activity.

Democrats also said the report failed to consider adequately the national security risks the United States caused by keeping detainees at Guantanamo without trial.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Exclusive: Lakhdar Boumediene, former Guantanamo detainee

  1. Closed captioning of: Exclusive: Lakhdar Boumediene, former Guantanamo detainee

    >>> in those rare instances when we do talk about guantanamo it's about the politics of it. there's very little said, these days, about who the prisoners are, how they got there and who's guilty of what. in october of 2001 , six algerian men in bosnia were arrested. after a three-month investigation, bosnian investigators found insufficient evidence to justify their arrest. the bosnian supreme court ordered their immediate release. here's what happened next as reported by "nbc nightly news" that night.

    >> reporter: police vans carry them away from the prison in sarajevo right into the hands of u.s. military forces who immediately took them into custody. angry mobs of muslims who claimed the u.s. is waging war against islam and not terrorism tried to block the handoff of the muslim prisoners but were beaten back by riot police . the six suspects are accused of attempting to blow up the u.s. embassy in sarajevo.

    >> they would become some of the first detainees at guantanamo bay . one of those prisoners was lakhdar boumediene . the u.s. government stopped accusing the men but lakhdar was held for seven years without charge or explanation. he's a free man today in part because of a supreme court decision that bears his name, the rule that terror suspects held at guantanamo have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in federal court . yesterday, with the help of an arabic translator, i interviewed lakhdar boumediene from his home in nies, france. it was one of the hardest interviews and one of the most effective. here's some of our discussion. take a look.

    >> translator: i arrived to guantanamo and they removed the black bag from my hand and the muffs from my ear and blindfolds. it was a big shock to me. and i said to myself, is this america that respects human rights ? during the preliminary investigations -- interrogations, i mean, i thought america was a great country and that there is justice and freedom and human rights . and that they were realize within a day or two, or maybe a month, you know, that they would realize that i am innocent and they will let me go home to my family. but it was totally the contrary. this is something that i will never forget. they were interrogating me for hours and hours during the night, midnight until 6:00 a.m . the situation changed in 2004 and i got a major interrogator. i don't really remember his real name . and i used to call him the elephant. and he said, your case is not a case of the u.s. embassy . it's not a case of terrorism and it's not a case of armed group. no. your case is -- it's a political case. it's a purely political. if bush makes an agreement with your president in algeria, you know, we can probably reach an agreement. here i receive orders and i have to follow these orders and i have to ask you these questions, whether you respond to my questions or refuse to respond to my questions, i don't care. my job is to ask you questions, but you have nothing to do with terrorism, you know, your case is a purely political case.

    >> at a certain point you decided to go on a hunger strike to protest your detention there. what happened when you decided to go on a hunger strike ?

    >> translator: they brought me like a special meal, like it was like some potatoes and carrots and they covered it with some sauce to remove the bad odor and then they said you have 15 days to eat this. you're going to eat this kind of food because you provoked the problem with the soldier. it's going to be your food for lunch and for dinner. i said thank you very much for the meal and i'm not going to eat it until, god willing , i am going to be moved from here.

    >> in america , the word torture has a very specific meaning. it's very important we understand when you say you were tortured after obama came in, what specifically was done to you?

    >> translator: specifically, when i was on a hunger strike and here i can explain to you, then you will tell me, you will tell me, whether it's torture or not. americans will decide whether it's torture or not. from the very first day, for 2 1/2 years, they knew my left sinus was blocked. that was before i came to jail, i was taken to jail. the tube could not get inside. so that feeling was on the right side only. they knew that. this is what was registered for the nurses and the physicians with regard to the feeling. but when the nurse comes, they try for five to ten minutes on this side of the nose and then they hit the bone. you tell me, was this torture or not? the real face of america is guantanamo . that's the real face of america is guantanamo . no justice. there is no human rights , you know, people are suffering, torturing, you know. and you know, there are so many reasons, we're not going to list them in this program, but this is the real face of america .

    >> would it make a difference to you if the government admitted they made a mistake and formally apologized?

    >> translator: well, of course things will change . many things will change . the first thing -- the first thing that i will get my rights here, so i can start a new life. now i don't have anything. i lost all my life. how can i start from scratch? how can i start? now when i go and try to find a job and i give them my cv, i don't know what you call it, the cv or something, they ask me between 2002 and 2009 what did you do and this is where the shock is when i -- when the interviewer hears the word guantanamo and prarenthesis, they see prison, forget it, they will never call you. you're not going to hear anything. i want to address this question to the american people . i am asking you, if one of you is imprisoned in america for 7 1/2 years, deprived of his wife, his children and life, he lost his job and his kids cannot say in front of their peers our father was in prison. when this guy is released from jail after seven years, is he compensated? you know, i leave the american people to answer this question. i leave it to them. american government , you know, is an arrogant government. until this very moment they don't want to admit they made a mistake towards lakhdar boumediene . this is the least they could have done. the american government could have done is to admit guilt here, admit they made a mistake.

Photos: Guantanamo Bay detention center

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  1. A U.S. military guard arrives for work at Camp Delta in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010. Two days after his inauguration in January 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the facility in one year and review each detainee’s case individually, but he has missed the deadline by months and has struggled to transfer, try or release the remaining detainees. (These pictures have been reviewed by the U.S. military.) (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Detainees prepare to eat lunch at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010. The U.S. military currently holds 183 detainees at Guantanamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The detention center has held nearly 780 detainees in an assortment of camps that were built to accommodate different levels of security. In Camp 6, detainees spend at least 22 hours a day in single-occupancy cells. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. In this picture, a detainee stands in Guantanamo’s Camp 6, his face obscured by a wire fence. There are strict rules on the publication of photographs of detainees – any distinguishing features or clear pictures of detainees’ faces are not allowed past Guantanamo’s gates. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A detainee reads a magazine in the library at Camp 6. One of the obstacles President Obama faces in shutting down the detention facility is that Congress has blocked funding for a plan that would transfer some detainees to a prison in the United States. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing each detainee’s case individually and categorizing them into three groups: those who face trial, those who will be transferred to detention facilities in other countries, and those who are deemed a danger but cannot released or tried because of sensitive evidence – and must continue to be held. There are 48 detainees in this category. Here, detainees prepare to eat lunch at Camp 6. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. In this photo, a detainee attends a class in "life skills" inside Camp 6. In November 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 suspects would be prosecuted in a federal court in New York City, setting off a heated debate that put the White House on the defense and has forced it to reconsider the plan. The Obama administration has also designated six detainees for trial by military tribunal, including Canadian Omar Khadr, whose trial will be the first at Guantanamo during the Obama presidency. (Brennan Linsley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. Navy guard prepares to escort a detainee after a "life skills" class in Camp 6. Meantime, the war crimes tribunal convened in Guantanamo on April 28, 2010, to decide what evidence can be used against Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was just 15 when he was detained in Afghanistan in 2002. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Congressional Republicans and some Democrats oppose the plan to prosecute detainees in federal courts because that would give suspects full U.S. legal rights and could lead to the release of dangerous terrorists. Supporters, however, say military courts unfairly limit defendants’ rights and contend that federal courts are just as capable of bringing suspects to justice. In this photo, U.S. Army guards are briefed at the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A U.S. Army soldier patrols past a guard tower at Camp Delta. A final difficulty in closing the detention facility is skepticism about how well some countries would monitor and rehabilitate detainees transferred there – and whether they would be at risk of being recruited into terror networks. Yemen, in particular, is under scrutiny after the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is believed to have been trained by al-Qaida in Yemen. The Obama administration has since suspended all transfers to Yemen. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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