As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Record-Keeping Is The Hobgoblin Of Little Minds

I started to understand why Obama wanted to hedge on the timing of the closure of Guantanamo once stories like this started leaking out.

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.

Now, this is not to excuse Obama for setting a goal of one year that is probably unnecessarily long. But because the margin for error is going to be so thin for him, because despite the fact that this disarray may have caused the release of some dangerous detainees and the holding of other harmless ones in the past, if he lets one guy go who ends up "returning to the battlefield it'll be non-stop shrieking for weeks, I understand the caution.

That said, delay is not an option.

Let me make this easy, based on my extrapolating from Candace's representations and from the dozens more I am familiar with from the interviews conducted on this blog: there's simply no there there. The reason that the Government's "evidence" is "in disarray" is because if it were well-organized, it would be obvious to all that it is, as the courageous Col. Stephen Abraham called it, "garbage". Nothing more than a bunch of guilt-by-association accusations, often derived from torture, or from other sources that the Government itself believes unreliable.

Look people: why should we believe the Bush Administration ON ANYTHING? Of the decisions that have gone that far, in actual "on the merits" hearings, detainees are winning 90% of them, even in courts that have demonstrated their predisposition to be hostile to the detainees at every turn heretofore. Now why might that be? Might it be because there is no there there... that the Bush Administration held men not because they were or are dangerous, but because it would be embarrassing to release them?

The President has directed a stay of prosecutions for 120 days, and ordered a shut-down within a year. Both of those are way, way too long periods, given what everyone knows (i.e., there is simply no reason to believe anything the Bush Adminsitration did is reliable, so why should this be different). But, notwithstanding my unwavering support for my college classmate The President, we cannot allow any slippage on this: it's too important. To quote The President himself, we cannot compromise our principles in the interests of expedience.

There's that, and also the theory that if the Bush Administration actually kept rigorous records on all the malfeasance they created, it would be that much harder to ignore their crimes. Either way, I don't think it will be terribly difficult to have a team of lawyers work through the stack of evidence and come up with either a trial or a release of all 245 prisoners well before the one-year deadline. And Obama should weather the slings and arrows from the conservative noise machine and do what is right.

The politics of this were never going to be easy for the president. The right is prepared to call him a terrorist sympathizer no matter what he does, short of keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely and going back on his promise to end torture. He might as well rip off the band-aid on this stuff. It isn't going to get any easier --- and there are actual human beings' lives hanging in the balance.

It would appear that people like Geoffrey Miller, Barbara Fast, Dick Cheney, Stephen Cambone, Paul Wolfowitz and others are all going to sail into history unpunished for their records on torture. They are walking around free. The least we can do is give their former prisoners a trial as soon as possible or let them go.


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