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Donald Trump
stated on January 30, 2018 in the 2018 State of the Union address:
"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."
true barely-true
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP) President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP)

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (AP)

Allison Graves
By Allison Graves January 31, 2018

Fact-checking Donald Trump's misleading claim about the release of 'dangerous terrorists'

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

"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," Trump said Jan. 30.

Those claims are misleading.

‘We have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield’

Trump is 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 sort of 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 from Guantanamo, and 122 of them 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.

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What about al-Baghdadi?

Trump claimed that the United States was responsible for releasing Baghdadi back into the battlefield, but that claim 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. However, Baghdadi was not set free; he was handed over to the Iraqis in 2004, who released him some time later.

In a previous fact-check, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro falsely tied President Barack Obama to Baghdadi’s release. Baghdadi was not in U.S. custody when Obama was in office.

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

Our ruling

Trump said, "We have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi."

Trump is overstating 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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Mostly False
"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."
in the 2018 State of the Union speech
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Our Sources

PolitiFact, Fox's Pirro: Obama set ISIS leader free in 2009, June 19, 2014

PolitiFact, Donald Trump wrongly blames Barack Obama for former Guantanamo detainees returning to terrorism, March 7, 2017

ODNI, "Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," October 2017

Email interview, White House press office, Jan. 30, 2018

 

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Fact-checking Donald Trump's misleading claim about the release of 'dangerous terrorists'

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