In a letter to congressional leaders sent Monday night, White House adviser John Brennan, the assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism, argued that President Obama had made "significant improvements to the detainee review process" under President Bush and pointed out that all the former detainees released or transferred who have returned to terrorist activities were released or transferred under President Bush.
Brennan met with members of Congress on January 13, and in a follow-up letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., obtained by ABC News, Brennan writes that the "Intelligence Community assesses that 20 percent of detainees transferred from Guantanamo are confirmed or suspected of recidivist activity."
This includes 9.6 percent of detainees who have been confirmed as having returned to terrorist activities, and 10.4 percent whom the Intelligence Community "suspects, but is not certain, may have engaged in recidivist activities."
"I want to underscore the fact that all of these cases relate to detainees released during the previous administration and under the prior detainee review process," Brennan writes. "The report indicates no confirmed or suspected recidivists among detainees transferred during this Administration, although we recognize the ongoing risk that detainees could engage in such activity."
This is the first time the Obama administration has made such a statement so starkly.
The 20 percent recidivism rate has been previously reported by ABC News' Luis Martinez, but this letter marks the first time a US official has confirmed it on the record.
Brennan writes that the task force President Obama has established for reviewing detainees consists of "60 career prosecutors, agents, analysts and attorneys from across the government, including civilian, military, and intelligence officials. Every decision to transfer a detainee to a foreign country during this Administration has been made unanimously by all agencies involved with the review process after a full assessment of intelligence and threat information."
Those weighing in on the task force include officials from the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of National Intelligence, and the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security.
Brennan also took the occasion to rebut an argument made during the January 13 briefing by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who also received a copy of Brennan's letter.
Wolf has said that Ayman Batarfi, a detainee from Yemen transferred to that country by the Obama administration last December, "has worked closely with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and trained with a microbiologist who taught al Qaeda how to produce anthrax in August 2001, according to unclassified Pentagon documents from 2004."
Brennan said, apparently in response to this assertion, that during the January 13 briefing, Wolf "made allegations that one detainee repatriated to Yemen had been involved in weapons of mass destruction. As it has done in every case, the task force thoroughly review all information available to the government about this individual and concluded that there is no basis for the assertions Representative Wolf made during this session."