O’Reilly’s Phony Guantanamo Math

In a top-of-the-show rant about the dangers of the Guantanamo detainees, Fox‘s Bill O’Reilly declared (1/25/09):

Just hours after President Obama announced he was going to shut down Guantanamo Bay, the feds confirmed that a released Gitmo inmate, 35-year-old Sahid al-Shahiri, had resumed terrorist activities in Yemen.

Now if this isn’t a warning, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know what is. Obama tells the world no more Gitmo, and a guy the Bush administration let go in 2007 is now a major Al-Qaeda terrorist again. So we can add this guy to a list of 61 former Gitmo detainees who have returned to being terrorists after they’ve been released, that according to the Defense Department. That’s 11 percent of those let go returning to the terror world.

First of all, that 61 number is totally misleading.That total includes those the Pentagon thinks may have “returned” to the “battlefield.” They say they only know for sure about 18 of them.And even those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

Seton Hall professor Mark Denbeaux has pointed out (on MSNBC and elsewhere; Washington Independent, 1/23/09) that there are serious problems with the Pentagon’s accounting:

They’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places or acts upon which their report relies. Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DoD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo–much less were they released from there. They have counted people as “returning to the fight” for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DoD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning–except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men.

Of course, O’Reilly’s bloviating has a deeper problems: If these people were terrorists, then the Bush administration should have had no trouble keeping them in prison. If they weren’t terrorists, but became terrorists after being imprisoned for years, then Guantanamo’s the problem and not the solution, isn’t it?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.