Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Obama officials try to find Gitmo files

The Washington Post reports on the difficulties the Obama administration is having just finding all the information the government has about detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay:

President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.


The article says that the paper spoke to “several former Bush administration officials” who “agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.” But then they quote one of the most absurd denials I’ve ever heard:

After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.

“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.

Yeah, that’s a denial that should be taken seriously. An anonymous former official in an unknown capacity has a politically convenient explanation asserting that the Obama folks are inventing this as an excuse, yet he admits that he’s never actually seen those files himself and he’s just going on the word of the Pentagon. Never mind the several highly decorated JAG officers who have resigned as prosecutors and said that they were refused access to exculpatory evidence and that the evidence that they were allowed to see was fragmentary and often based on anonymous sources or on coerced or bribed testimony. Like this guy, who was actually willing to use his name:

Charles D. “Cully” Stimson, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs in 2006-2007, said he had persistent problems in attempts to assemble all information on individual cases. Threats to recommend the release or transfer of a detainee were often required, he said, to persuade the CIA to “cough up a sentence or two.”

A second former Pentagon official said most individual files are heavily summarized dossiers that do not contain the kind of background and investigative work that would be put together by a federal prosecution team. He described “regular food fights” among different parts of the government over information-sharing on the detainees.

I’d love to know the identity of that anonymous denier, the one who issues denials without a shred of evidence on his side.