Detainees Freed, Transferred Despite 'High Risk' Hundreds of secret documents show that military and counterterrorism analysts sometimes found it difficult to determine whether those held in the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay were truly dangerous.

Detainees Transferred Or Freed Despite 'High Risk'

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NPR: NPR's Tom Gjelten considers whether or not the detainees' files predicted who would return to the fight.

TOM GJELTEN: The reason for holding enemy combatants at war time, as President Bush said, is that they are people who, if set free, might well go back to fighting you.


GEORGE W: We have a right under the laws of war and we have an obligation to the American people to detain these enemies and stop them from rejoining the battle.

GJELTEN: Thomas Wilner has defended Guantanamo prisoners, but also advised the government on its detention operations. He wasn't impressed by the assessment process.

THOMAS WILNER: Nobody wants to release terrorists, and you really wanted a good review. What I found was that you had people collecting raw intelligence data and throwing it into a pot, and then people who are not trained analysts would look at it and say, oh, there's a lot of stuff here, so this guy must be a threat.

GJELTEN: David Remes, another lawyer who has represented detainees, says the record shows that Guantanamo interrogators just didn't get good intelligence on their subjects.

DAVID REMES: It is very hard to make accurate predictions in a situation where the evidence that you have is inherently unreliable, so you have decisions about dangerousness based on hunches or based on what jailhouse snitches have said.

GJELTEN: Abdallah al-Ajmi, the Iraq suicide bomber, was actually Wilner's client. It made sense, he says, that al-Ajmi was not seen as particularly threatening. When sent to Guantanamo, he was suspected only of having volunteered to fight with the Taliban. But Wilner says he was actually surprised when the government announced it was sending al-Ajmi back to Kuwait.

WILNER: I think he was not a terrorist caught up as terrorism before, but Guantanamo had turned this guy into a crazy sort of vegetable. He went from when I first met him to be a very nice, sweet kid, over a course of years to this wild, angry, angry person. And I was shocked.

GJELTEN: Wilner says the lesson from the people who returned to the fight, his client being one, is that if you don't want a detainee to go back to terrorism, you can't just focus on the terrorism resume he brought to Guantanamo. You have to prepare him for a return to normal life.

WILNER: How do you deal with them in releasing them? How do you make sure that a person who is angry at you doesn't do anything about it? There was just none of that subtlety of it.

GJELTEN: Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

: And this story was co-reported by Margot Williams of NPR's investigative unit. Margot also created a joint NPR/New York Times database on all the Guantanamo detainees. You can explore that database and read some of the secret documents at

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