The Prisoners at Guantanamo, by the Numbers

The Atlantic

In April, The New York Times' Charles Savage asked the government to release a list of the people still detained at the government's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He asked the Department of Defense, but the proper division for the response was the Department of Justice. Today it responded, providing one of the first complete looks at who the United States is holding, and what it plans to do with them. In short, they're heavily Yemeni and, even if Guantanamo is closed, most will remain in custody.

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We took the government's data and made it easier to parse the data. (If you're curious, the entire Freedom of Information Act response from the government is at the bottom of this page.) Doing so allowed us to map the national origins of each detainee, as below.

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Nearly 100 of the 240 detainees are originally from Yemen, which makes their status more complex than others. The next most-common country of origin is Afghanistan, followed by Saudi Arabia and Chad. Interestingly, one data point that probably jumped out at you — the detainee from Canada — shows that the document doesn't only include current detainees. The Canadian is Omar Khadr, a teenager who accepted a plea deal and is currently serving a sentence in a Canadian prison.

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Khadr's status is listed in the document as "referred for prosecution" — a status he shares with 17 other prisoners. Other statuses for detainees include:

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  • "Continued detention pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001)" — in some cases, allowing for eventual detention in the United States. That determination, which allows for indefinite detention was made explicit by Obama in 2011.
  • "Transfer outside the United States to a country that will implement appropriate security measures."
  • "Transfer or release outside the United States."

A large number of detainees of Yemeni origin have a modified version of the AUMF designation, stating that, given the security situation in their home country, they will either be returned there once Guantanamo closes, or moved to detention in the United States. During his national security speech last month, Obama lifted the moratorium on returning Yemeni prisoners to that country, meaning the 30 identified in this way will likely be returned.

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The various designations break down as follows:

In a number of cases, the eventual secured location of the detainee isn't named. In some cases, it's redacted. In a few cases, specific destination countries are named, usually the detainee's country of origin. In one case, that of detainees from Chad, each and every prisoner is flagged either for release outside the United States or transfer to the US.

One data point not mentioned in the Department of Justice release is one that got a great deal of attention earlier this month. The Washington Post and others reported that 41 of the current detainees are on hunger strike. As a percentage of the 240 listed detainees, that's about one-sixth — though the number of detainees actually at Guantanamo is lower.

It's not clear if the FOIA response (which, again, is below) includes all relevant information. The respondent, Vanessa R. Brinkmann of the Initial Request Staff, indicates that some data may be excluded via existing Congressional action. What is included, though, provides a sweeping picture of a flawed, unwanted system that America seems unable to effectively undo.

Photo: An anti-Guantanamo protest in Yemen. (Reuters)

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