Do you remember how the 9/11 attacks happened, and then there was an investigation into whether anything could have been done differently to prevent it, and it turned out that the various government agencies hadn’t been sharing intelligence and information very well? And do you remember how George W Bush (“He Kept Us Safe“) fixed all of that, with his Department of Homeland Security and his daily briefings and his general level of awesomeness?
Well, as the Obama administration begins its plans to close Arkham Asylum Guantanamo Bay, it’s discovering just how effectively information is recorded and shared after seven years of Him Keeping Us Safe:
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.
Several former Bush administration officials 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.
Of course, after President HKUS fixed everything, I’m sure the Obama administration can at least count on the departments and agencies pulling together to address this stuff, right?
They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, …
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.
A CIA spokesman denied that the agency had not been “forthcoming” with detainee information, saying that such suggestions were “simply wrong” and that “we have worked very closely with other agencies to share what we know” about the prisoners. While denying there had been problems, one intelligence official said the Defense Department was far more likely to be responsible for any information lapses, since it had initially detained and interrogated most of the prisoners and had been in charge of them at the prison.
So, defence and intelligence personnel are pointing fingers at each other, justice personnel have never been brought into this process (prior to Obama’s executive orders), and the whole thing is a giant mess that needs untangling before anyone can even figure out who can and should be prosecuted. Thanks, President HKUS.
Meanwhile, former members of the HKUS administration are saying this shows Obama what they were up against:
But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.
“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.
If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way to accumulate all of the evidence so that the government could prove to a court that all those things were true, and then the court could authorise locking them up for a very long time? Wouldn’t that keep people safe?
But Steve Benen sums up the problem the HKUS administration has created:
The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years.
And the truly horrifying thing is that, based on his own legacy-building project, “He Kept Us Safe” is the platform Bush has chosen to be judged on.
ELSEWHERE: Matt Yglesias sums up the arguments coming from Republicans about why closing Gitmo is bad.