Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 24, 2009
By: Hilzoy

There Are No Files

From the Washington Post:

"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.

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.

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."

Hmm. Incoming officials say there are no files. Some Bush administration ex-officials agree, but others say that there are files, and that the Obama administration is just making excuses. Who is right?

As it happens, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that deciding what to do with individual detainees at Guantanamo "will require going through all their files and evaluating the evidence against them". About an hour later, a commenter at Obsidian Wings who is in a position to know, and who is, in my experience, absolutely trustworthy, replied:

"There aren't files. No one believes this at first, and it takes a long time to accept it, but really, that's it: no files. There are databases that can be searched . . ."

It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I'm just glad they're finally gone.

Hilzoy 11:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Wow! Amazing. Incredible.

Isn't it out of character for the Bush admin people to NOT keep records? Of course, they may be "lost", but isn't it extremely likely they exist somewhere?

Time for an EO requiring ALL information on the Gitmo detainees to be forwarded to one office.

Posted by: MarkH on January 24, 2009 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

For all their psychopathic self-conceit, the Bush administration was amateur hour.

Posted by: alan on January 24, 2009 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Amateur hour; criminally inept; destroyers of evidence; war criminals; all of the above? There's no way to be sure. A prosecutor needs to sort this out.

Posted by: Christor on January 25, 2009 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

I worked on Capitol Hill on 9.11. A week later, I flew to England for a college junior year abroad. I wasn't doing hazardous duty, but in the course of making friends and living in London, I stumped for the United States and the Bush administration. Silly English students would argue that the US couldn't be trusted to run a prison at GITMO, that we would torture people there, that they would be outside the normal legal channels. No, I would assure them, we're America and we don't do that.

Thank you, George W. Bush. Not only did you betray my notions of what we, as Americans hold dear, but you did so in such a pathetic, immature way, that we can't even believe that there was any thought, reason, or intelligence behind it.

You personally betrayed me.

Posted by: GHK on January 25, 2009 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

I give up. I mean, seriously. 7 f**king years and you don't have a file with evidence for why the f**k you're holding the guy? This simply can't be true. I'm guessing it's only partially true. It would be impossible to be this inconsiderate of human rights.

Posted by: Franklin on January 25, 2009 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK

As far as republicans are concerned, if they're not rich and they're not white, there's no need to worry about such silly things as criminal evidence.

After watching these guys operate for 8 years, I can't say I'm surprised.....still, wow!

Posted by: palinoscopy on January 25, 2009 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

The defense for why there's no organized case file is that these people are dangerous and the situation is complex.

That's why people organize files. Because the information is important and complex. That's like saying we didn't stick the garbage in the trash can because it's messy.

Posted by: Gene Ha on January 25, 2009 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

One need only look at the character of the Bush administration and the character of the Obama administration team to know who's telling the truth here. The word 'sleazy' only applies to one of them.

These were sadistic psychopaths with an excuse to enjoy their dark side...torturing human beings despite having no evidence against them in many cases. This is why Bush/Cheney administration must be prosecuted...their indifference to the suffering they caused is shameful.

Posted by: bjobotts on January 25, 2009 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK
Isn't it out of character for the Bush admin people to NOT keep records?

Not really. Remember, an organization quickly adopts many of the characteristics of its leader.

Bush, when he was Governor of Texas and signing death warrants, would have Gonzales summarize each case on a single sheet of paper and present it to him. His time to look at it was intentionally limited, so he didn't deeply consider any case. Of course, he never approved a delay in the execution.

Why should he? He knew what his decision was going to be before the file was handed to him. Who needs records when you know the answer in your gut?

Posted by: Rick B on January 25, 2009 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

Y'all are insufficiently cynical.

The lack of records is intentional.
Missing records, records that were never kept -- these cannot be used in war crimes prosecutions, nor as evidence to prove the innocence of the innocent among the captives. No records, no accountability.

It's a deliberate obstruction of justice.
It's contemptible.
It's absolutely in character for BushCo.

I'm expecting this to be only another of many such revelations. We already know that incriminating White House emails "have been destroyed" or are not recoverable (according to the White House).

It's the eighteen-and-one-half-minute gap in the Nixon tapes, scaled up to policy.

Posted by: joel hanes on January 25, 2009 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

You know how when you go to complain about a parking ticket issued on a day you did not drive? And the person at the Parking Tickets window refers you to the Citizen Complaints bureau? And the friendly person in the Citizen Complaints bureau refers you to the Police Malfeasance Investigation Subcommittee? And they ask you to fill out a form at the your local sub-branch of the Police Malfeasance Investigation Subcommittee? And you have to prompt them five times before they write to inform you that the matter has been dismissed? And you write to the Mayor and he never answers? Same thing, except at the end of this experience, you really are crazy.

Posted by: Jassalasca Jape on January 25, 2009 at 2:36 AM | PERMALINK

I would think that the lack of records would itself be a crime.

Posted by: Rachel Q on January 25, 2009 at 2:57 AM | PERMALINK

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

But they took *photos*.

If you don't plan to ever let them go, you take photos -- as a souvenirs -- you don't fiddle-fart with paperwork, like files. Just look at what's left at Auschwitz -- a barrack full of shoes, another full of hair, another stuffed to the rafter with suitcases. And photos, retrieved from the jailers' albums. But not much in the way of files, of the "admitted at... exterminated at..." kind..

Posted by: exlibra on January 25, 2009 at 2:58 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't Kafka write a novel like this?

And when is the media going to grow a set and stop giving anonymity to douchebags?

Posted by: bubba on January 25, 2009 at 4:51 AM | PERMALINK

If you're never going to release them (indefinite detention) and you're never going to be out of power ("permanent Republican majority"), there's no need to keep actual files on the people you detain. There's also the added benefit that if you ever do lose power, there's less evidence of the heinous crimes you have committed.

By the way, why does the former senior administration official get anonymity in that article? This kind of crap is why no one trusts major newspapers anymore. There is no legitimate reason for Dick Cheney to be able to make these kinds of allegations from behind a shield of anonymity. If the Obama team is lying about there being no files, that's not something they have a right to hide, so the excuse that the ex-official needs anonymity because he's "not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters" is completely specious. All this does is allow the outgoing admin to depart in exactly the same classy manner that they arrived. They started out lying about the Clintons trashing the White House. They leave lying about the Obamas.

Posted by: Singularity on January 25, 2009 at 5:37 AM | PERMALINK

Why am I guessing the burrowed employees will know nothing? Everything that happened in the last eight years happened somewhere else.

Posted by: Danp on January 25, 2009 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

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,"

Why do I envision George W. passed out in his Yale dorm room with most of his term papers in a similar condition.

I never thought I'd see in my lifetime such stark dramatic proof that there are solid reasons behind the Constitutional right to habeas corpus.

President Obama. Please commence/continue the prosecutions of our war criminals. I heard you take that oath to defend the Constitution.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 25, 2009 at 7:53 AM | PERMALINK


In the words of my teenager:

Epic Fail!

Posted by: Westside Buppie on January 25, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

I think I know where those records are....they're in those millions of emails that were "lost" by the Bush administration!

Posted by: Denjudge on January 25, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

This was a 'special' administration, all right, as in 'special education.'


The UN could potentially press charges against various parties in the Bush crew. This would have the beneficial effect of requiring them to face justice w/o requiring the Obama administration to explicitly pursue charges against them. As the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, and the US Constitution explicitly makes treaties the law of the land, BushCo. is subject to penalty for violation of international law against torture, and must face charges for doing so.

I look forward to seeing Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and perhaps others facing trial in the Hague in the forseeable future.


Posted by: Zorro on January 25, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Its pretty obvious that the entire Bush regime effort was a sham. There probably isn't any actual evidence to hold these people, try and find where they are from and dump them off. We will hear from their new lawyers soon enough.

Posted by: Alan Vander Wey on January 25, 2009 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.

Way to give this know-nothing a podium, Washington Post. You really are a bunch of fucking hacks.

Posted by: ibc on January 25, 2009 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

There are reasons to think the tracking down of Bu$hCo malfeasance will be an epic Herculian task. Here's a reminder why http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/5/16/1209/85649/949/516706

Posted by: opit on January 26, 2009 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

The George syndicate learned from the mistake the Nazis made.
Don't keep such detailed records, they might be used against you.

Posted by: WDRussell on January 26, 2009 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Ahem. Will somebody please check the waste basket next to the shredder?

Posted by: Clemsy on January 26, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK



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