PolitiFact: Trump overstates number of freed-to-fight terrorists


“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released.”

— President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in the 2018 State of the Union address


President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union speech, reaffirmed his commitment to crack down on terrorists and blamed those before him for not doing enough.

His claims about terrorists the U.S. released who later fought Americans are misleading.

Trump was referring to the number of prisoners released from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay who were confirmed of re-engaging in some type of terrorist activity.

About every six months the Director of National Intelligence releases figures about detainees transferred from Guantanamo and how many are known to have re-engaged in some terrorist activity.

The most recent report was published in October 2017 and includes data from 2002, when the prison opened, through July 2017. During that time the U.S. government transferred more than 700 detainees, and 122 were “confirmed of re-engaging” in some sort of terrorist activity.

Eight of those transfers happened during the Obama administration. The remaining 114 — or over 92 percent — happened under George W. Bush.

So Trump’s “hundreds and hundreds” is really 122 combatants spread out over 15 years.

What about the ISIS leader al-Baghdadi he referred to specifically? Trump’s claim that the United States was responsible for releasing Baghdadi back into the battlefield is also missing key context.

From early February 2004 until early December 2004, Baghdadi was held at a U.S. detention system known as Camp Bucca, according to the Defense Department. He was not set free; he was handed over to the Iraqis in 2004, who released him some time later.

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro falsely tied President Barack Obama to Baghdadi’s release in a statement that was previously fact-checked. Baghdadi was not in U.S. custody when Obama was in office.

The framework for prisoner transfers to Iraq was set up while Bush was president. The legal contract guaranteed the United States would give up custody of virtually every detainee. It would have required an extraordinary effort to hold on to Baghdadi, and there is no evidence he was on anyone’s radar.

Our ruling

Trump overstated the number of prisoners released from Guantanamo who were confirmed of re-engaging in some type of terrorist activity. That number is 122, not “hundreds and hundreds.” He is also not entirely right that al-Baghdadi was “released” by the United States. The ISIS leader was was handed over to the Iraqi justice system, which released him some time later.

We rate this claim Mostly False.


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