WASHINGTON -- Accelerating the public relations battle over Guantanamo, a new study requested by the Pentagon argues that large numbers of the detainees there were a direct threat to US forces. The detainees included Al Qaeda fighters, terrorism training-camp veterans, and men who had experience with explosives, sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades.
The report, by a terrorism study center at West Point, paints a chilling portrait of the detainees who have been held at the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and asserts that publicly available information indicates that 73 percent of detainees were a "demonstrated threat" to American or coalition forces.
It says that 95 percent were at least a "potential threat," including detainees who had played a supporting role in terrorist groups or had expressed a commitment to pursuing violent jihadist goals.
The authors make clear that one of their goals was to affect public attitudes. It says the report should "enhance our collective understanding of the threats facing the United States, its allies and its interests and how we respond to them."
The report, released yesterday, is essentially the military's rebuttal of growing assertions by advocates for detainees that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is filled with hapless innocents and low-level cooks and other support personnel who pose no real threat.
Pentagon officials have been saying since the spring that they planned a major public response, in what has become a heated war of perceptions over Guantanamo. The report indicates that it may be the centerpiece of that effort.
With about 360 detainees still held at Guantanamo, the struggle to shape public views of the detainees has become a central focus for the Bush administration and for detainees' advocates. In the courts and in Congress as well as within the administration, some officials have argued that the detainees are far more dangerous than they are portrayed in the media, or by their advocates.
The report analyzes previously released military summaries of the unclassified evidence used in 516 of the military hearings that determine whether detainees are properly held as enemy combatants. It was written at the request of the Pentagon by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point, a teaching and research center that describes itself as "actively involved in supporting the global war on terror."