THIS EXPLAINS A LOT…. Hilzoy reported on this overnight, but I don’t want the news to get lost in the shuffle. It’s one of those breathtaking stories that is almost too painful to believe.
Upon announcing his plan to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Barack Obama also began a process that would review the case files for every detainee. The problem for the new administration, however, is that there are no files.
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.
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. 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.
I mention this, in part to help resolve some lingering confusion. On the one hand, the Bush administration released some detainees who apparently turned out to be pretty dangerous. On the other, the Bush administration refused to release other detainees who weren’t dangerous at all, and were actually U.S. allies.
How could this happen? In light of these revelations about the lack of files, it starts to make a lot more sense.
But to put this in an even larger context, consider just how big a mess Bush has left for Obama here. 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. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.
I’m reminded of something John Cole said the other day: “The moral of this story is not the danger for Obama going forward with his Gitmo decommissioning, the moral is that when venal, shallow, small men are given unfettered power and authority, they do incompetent, stupid, and evil things.”