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Sunday, January 25, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

One of my major problems over time with the Bush administration’s handling of detainees is that every story about the process is rife with disorganization and incompetence. Indeed, the former administration left office with an incomplete mess for the new administration to clean up. Despite the constant assurances by the Bush administration that they knew what they were doing with Guantánamo, there is no evidence that that was ever the case. Even the recent news that several released prisoners have returned to the field of battle underscores this fact. While many say those events demonstrate why Guantánamo should remain open, it simply says to me that the Bush administration’s policies in regards to terrorists suspects in its custody was an utter disaster.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: one of the things that puzzled me for some time was the utter failure of the Bush administration to find one, just one, clear-cut case that could be used as an exemplar of why the camp was needed. Even if the example would not have convinced the hardcore critics of the policy, one would have thought that they would have been able to find one clear example that they knew what they were doing with the camp. And yet, there were none.

Even the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed case has been botched. If the US government cannot make a credible public case against the man considered the mastermind of 9/11, then who in the world could they make a case against? If anything I remain nonplussed that the Bush administration was incapable of finding a way to make political hay out of at least one case. It is truly stunning.

These views continued to be reinforced with every bit of new that comes out about the process. Today’s WaPo reports:Guantanamo Case Files in Disarray

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.

So, we hold people for years, we tell the world that we know, for certain, that they are the worst of the worst, and yet we don’t even have complete case files on them?

And before someone thinks that I am simply boo-hooing for mass murderers, I would recommend a post by Hilzoy at the Washington Monthly in which he notes a declaration by LTC Darrel Vandeveld who had been

the lead prosecutor against a detainee, Mohammed Jawad, until he resigned last September. After spending over a year on the case, he became convinced that the government had no good case against Jawad, that Jawad had been badly mistreated and was suffering serious psychological harm, and that continuing to hold him was “something beyond a travesty.” (p. 1) That’s why he wrote the declaration in question, in support of Jawad’s habeas petition.

Wrote Vandeveld:

to the shock of my professional sensibilities, I discovered that the evidence, such as it was, remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases primarily under the control of CITF, or strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments. I further discovered that most physical evidence that had been collected had either disappeared or had been stored in locations that no one with any tenure at, or institutional knowledge of, the Commissions could identify with any degree of specificity or certainty. The state of disarray was so extensive that I later learned, as described below, that crucial physical evidence and other documents relevant to both the prosecution and the defense had been tossed into a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten. Although it took me a number of months — so extensive was the lack of any discernable organization, and so difficult was it for me to accept that the US military could have failed so miserably in six years of effort — I began to entertain my first, developing doubts about the propriety of attempting to prosecute Mr. Jawad without any assurance that through the exercise of due diligence I could collect and organize the evidence in a manner that would meet our common professional obligations.

I would note, by the way, that one does not become a Lt. Colonel in the US military by being soft on the enemies of the United States. The very fact that someone who was once a chief prosecutor at GITMO could come to support the habeas petition of a detainee should be enough to get even the most stalwart supporters of the policy to stop and take notice that maybe the process needs some work.

Even setting aside the Jawad case, which included “enhanced” interrogations that led to Jawad signing a confession in a language that he didn’t speak (Farsi), does the above sound anything like a system that will, in fact, result in the appropriate detention of persons who might be a danger to the United States? Or, does it sound like a system wherein the guilty might accidentally be released while the innocent are kept in prison?

Really, regardless of one’s position on these detainees, one ought to find information like this ought to be disturbing.

Indeed, I have to concur with Hilzoy from a different post:

It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them.


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One Response to “More Tales from Gitmo”

  1. Dr. Taylor doesn’t get Gitmo « Whispers Says:

    [...] More Tales from Gitmo provides a good example of the paradigm problem in the efforts against international terrorism. [...]

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