Last month, the New York Times ran a front page story titled “1 In 7 Detainees Returned to Jihad, Pentagon Finds.” Relying on a unpublicized DoD report, the article said that “74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism, making for a recidivism rate of nearly 14 percent.” Critics pointed out that these statistics don’t take into account the possibility that released detainees were not terrorists to begin with and were radicalized by their detention. Seeming to take note of this criticism, the Times soon after changed the headline and lead of the web version of the story.
The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss noted that the Times’ web-only rewrite ignored the fact that the article “still contain[ed] references to ‘recidivism,’ which still presumes that detainees were involved in terrorism before being detained.” Today, the Times finally got around to addressing the story’s inaccuracies in its print edition in an “Editor’s Note.” And while the article still contains references to “recidivism,” the Times acknowledges the error:
The article said that the Pentagon had found about one in seven of former Guantánamo prisoners had “returned to terrorism or other militant activity,” or as the headline put it, had “rejoined jihad.”
Those phrases accepted a premise of the report that all the former prisoners had been engaged in terrorism before their detention. Because that premise remains unproved, the day the article appeared in the newspaper, editors changed the headline and the first paragraph on the Times Web site to refer to prisoners the report said had engaged in terrorism or militant activity since their release.
The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.
The editors’ note addresses this as well, saying that “[t]he article should have distinguished between the two categories, to say that about one in 20 of former Guantánamo prisoners described in the Pentagon report were now said to be engaging in terrorism.”
McClatchy’s Planet Washington notes that “one key question remains unknown,” asking, “How many of these confirmed and suspected jihadis became such because of their experiences at Guantanamo and elsewhere? “