Ed Driscoll

The 20 Percent Solution

At ABC, Jake Tapper writes, “Counterterrorism Czar Brennan Draws Fire for Comments on Gitmo Recidivism”:

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.”

Yeah, that quote will play well the next time there’s a terrorist incident. (Click over to Tapper’s article for video of the speech where Brenan’s quote appears.) As Tapper notes, there are already calls from the right for Brennan to step down:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) told Fox News Sunday that Brennan’s casualness about the 20 percent rate was “mindboggling and unnerving,” and said Brennan had “lost my confidence.”

“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.”

Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he “strongly” believes Brennan “ought to resign immediately or be fired because of his incompetence and inability to do his job.”

Paul Mirengoff of Power Line adds:

Brennan may be agnostic on how to deal with potential “ticking time-bomb” scenarios. But at least he’s clear that there’s no real problem with the large-scale release of terrorists where we can expect one in five of them to engage in future terrorism

As Tom Joscelyn points out, however, terrorism is not an ordinary crime. Thus, it’s ridiculous to compare terrorist recidivist rates to recidivist rates for ordinary criminals. For example, “a serial thief is not nearly as threatening as a former Gitmo detainee who blows himself up in Iraq, killing 13 Iraqis and wounding dozens more.” (Joscelyn also notes that the recidivism rate for terrorists has been rising dramatically as we track their behavior over time, and is likely to continue to rise).

Moreover, ordinary criminals have fixed sentences. They can only be held for so long regardless of how likely we think they are to return to a life of crime. By contrast, most of the terrorists we’ve released coud have been held instead; they were not released because a fixed sentence had come to, or was approaching, an end or because a court ordered that they be freed.

It’s clear that the left, including the Obama administration, considers terrorism to be closely analogous to, if not nearly indistinguishable from, ordinary criminal activity. The surprising thing is that its chief counter-terrorism guy makes no real effort to conceal this belief.

Obama should relieve Brennan of his counter-terrorism duties so that he can devote more time to visiting Islamic centers.

Ouch. Power Line’s Scott Johnson had an earlier look at Brennan’s Kinsley-esque gaffes here.