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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of May 7-13

This week, a reader sent a letter about Sen. John McCain’s claim about former Guantanamo prisoners who have returned to terrorist activities as leaders.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


Terror Recidivists

I am writing to comment on your recent analysis of McCain’s comments about Guantanamo Bay [“McCain’s Gitmo Exaggeration,” May 6].

I will agree that he should not have implied that all of the released prisoners that have returned to fight are in leadership positions, but I’d wager that some are. The fact is that the semi-annual, unclassified report does not state one way or another the level of involvement of the individuals that have returned to terrorism, so neither I nor you know how many have taken leadership roles. Regardless, this doesn’t change the fact that about 25 percent that we know of have returned or are suspected of having returned to terrorism (to say nothing of those we DON’T know of). Now, this really isn’t any worse than the recidivism rates of the general U.S. prison population, but it certainly supports the statement that we should “be very careful.”

Also, you state: “It is worth noting that the vast majority of the recidivists to whom McCain referred were released when George W. Bush was president.” Why is that worth noting? Does it change the facts? Was McCain stating in his original comments that only Obama has released prisoners that have returned to terrorism? Of course not, you just wanted to spice up a rather droll analysis with some misleading partisan text.

I say misleading because the Bush/Obama comparison is pointless from a mathematical standpoint. The most logical explanation is that a higher percentage of those released under Bush have returned to terrorism simply because they have had more time to do so! Your point on this matter is about as enlightening as pointing out that a higher percentage of marriages end within 8 years after the wedding than 2 years after the wedding. Sure, it’s true, but any Joe Blow could have told that, given time, more people do more stuff.

Gordon Mancuso
Lafayette, La.