Comments by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, at the Islamic Center at New York University on Saturday, are drawing fire and have prompted at least one call for his resignation by a Republican senator.
At one point, Brennan was asked about a recent assessment from the intelligence community that 20 percent of detainees transferred from Guantanamo are confirmed or suspected of recidivist activity, as Brennan confirmed in a letter to Congress earlier this month.
Earlier this month in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Brennan used that figure and pointed out about the 20 percent recidivism rate that "all of these cases relate to detainees released during the previous administration and under the prior detainee review process. 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."
Shayana Kadidal of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights challenged that figure, saying that his organization believes fewer than half a dozen former Guantanamo detainees have gotten involved in "any criminal activity."
Brennan stood by the figure, calling the assessment "very rigorous," though he acknowledged it's "very difficult to get precise figures" on recidivism.
"People sometimes use that figure, 20 percent, say 'Oh my goodness, one out of five detainees returned to some type of extremist activity,'" Brennan said. "You know, the American penal system, the recidivism rate is up to something about 50 percent or so, as far as return to crime. Twenty percent isn't that bad."
Brennan added, "Many of these detainees have returned, have engaged not just extremism, but terrorist attacks. It is something that we have to look at very carefully."
He said the Obama administration has a "more rigorous review" than did the Bush administration before detainees are transferred.
On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Brennan's assessment of 20 percent recidivism being not "that bad" was "mindboggling and unnerving."
"He has lost my confidence," Graham said of Brennan, "and it's the best evidence yet how disconnected this administration has come from the fact that we're at war. … I don't see how most Americans can feel safe when the head of counterterrorism tries to tell us you can get all the information you need within 50 minutes of an interview of a guy right off the airplane who tried to blow it up, and tries to tell us that the process did finally work, and say that a 20 percent recidivism rate's OK in the war on terror."
Graham said, "I think it'd be better to have a new person in that job."
Last week, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., told the National Review that Brennan “needs to go,” and is no longer “credible.” Brennan’s recent “troubling" decisions “have destroyed my confidence in him," Bond said. "Our problem now is that we have to wonder whether we can trust [Brennan] after he has been a mouthpiece for the political arm that I thought only came out of the White House press office.”
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro responded: “Through his pathetic attack on a counterterrorism professional like John Brennan, who has spent his lifetime protecting this country under multiple administrations, Sen. Bond sinks to new depths in his efforts to put politics over our national security.”
UPDATE: Writing at the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn takes issue with Kadidal's assertion, citing twenty examples of recidivists including the 11 Saudis cited in this report from the NEFA Foundation.