WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2010 – Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell today said the United States must remain vigilant in evaluating detainees to ensure releasing them is in the United States’ security interest.

Morrell made the statements at a Pentagon press briefing while acknowledging that former detainees from the military’s Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility are returning to the fight.

A Pentagon assessment revealed last April that 14 percent of former detainees had rejoined militant groups, up from 11 percent in December 2008, Morrell confirmed.

“The trend hasn’t reversed itself,” he told reporters today, although not offering updated recidivism rates.

That’s despite what Morrell called “a very painstaking and difficult process” used to evaluate detainees before they are released.

“We intensely scrutinize each and every case individually and assess its merits, assess the security risk, assess what the situation is back in the home country, and make a determination about whether it is wise to transfer each of these individuals back home or to a third country,” he explained.

The process, he conceded, is “an inexact science” that requires subjective calls based on judgment and intelligence. “So there is no foolproof answer in this realm,” he said. “That’s what makes this so difficult.”

With the Guantanamo Bay population now down to fewer than 200 detainees, Morrell said the more clear-cut decisions already have been made.

“Some of the initial cases were more obvious than others,” he said. “Some of them were deemed to be less of a threat than others. I think as we are getting down to the final couple of hundred, that these are clearly very difficult cases,” he said.

That, Morrell said, is why President Barack Obama issued an executive order during his first full day in office for agencies within the U.S. government to work together to determine the best disposition of the remaining detainees.

Obama announced earlier this week a decision to temporarily suspend the release of Yemeni detainees, following a failed Dec. 25 terror attempt on a U.S. airliner by a man believed to have been trained in Yemen. The president also reaffirmed his intent to close the Guantanamo Bay facility.

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