Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 7, 2010

REMEMBER, THERE WERE NO FILES.... Bloomberg ran a story yesterday that's been generating quite a bit of attention, especially among conservatives. The report, citing government data, claims that as many one in five detainees released from Guantanamo Bay "are suspected of or confirmed to have engaged in terrorist activity after their release." For the right, this obviously become another reason not to close the detention facility.

If the report is accurate there's a relevant question that shouldn't go overlooked: when were these detainees released? Or, more specifically, were they all released by Bush/Cheney?

A senior Obama administration official told Greg Sargent this morning just that -- the recidivists exist, but most, if not all, were released by the former administration.

He claimed that the administration doesn't believe that any of the detainees released under Obama have gone into terror-related activity -- because the Obama administration has a better screening process in place to determine which detainees pose a threat.

The story in question involves a new and classified Pentagon report that says roughly one-fifth of released detainees are suspected or confirmed to have returned to terrorist activity — up from a lower estimate in April.

But the senior official says the report shouldn't reflect badly on Obama policy. "We have been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight," the official says.

The official suggested that the possibility that all the recidivists were released under Bush shows that the previous administration didn't do the work of screening detainees slated for release that the Obama administration is doing.

At first blush, this might seem hard to believe. For an Obama administration official to just blame Bush/Cheney for the whole mess probably even seems self-serving.

But given what we know, it seems entirely plausible that detainees released by Bush/Cheney returned to terrorist activities, while detainees released by Obama didn't. Why? Because we learned about a year ago that Bush/Cheney didn't keep files on the detainees.

Immediately upon taking office, President Obama and his team began a process that would review the case files for every detainee. The new administration found, however, that the Bush gang didn't keep 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.

This seems hard to believe. Even Bush/Cheney critics might think, "Those guys were incompetent, but they weren't that incompetent."

But they actually were. 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.

These misjudgments were common because the Bush administration just didn't keep very good track of who they had in custody -- even on those who'd been imprisoned for several years.

When Obama created the Guantanamo Review Task Force, the new president and his team were effectively starting from scratch, compiling information that should have been pulled together years ago. The review, however, made it a lot less likely that Obama would make the same mistakes Bush made, and makes it far more likely that terrorists who were released from Gitmo came from Bush/Cheney, not Obama.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share

At first blush or last, I don't find it hard to believe that Bush/Cheney fucked this up. They fucked up everything they touched.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on January 7, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

The sound you just heard was my head exploding. Lord knows I find it hard to believe any good thing about Bush & Co., but even I wouldn't have suspected that they were that incompetent.

For the rest of my working life, when anyone criticizes my messy desk and disorganized files, I'll just point out that I'm far more organized than the entire Bush White House was.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on January 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

What I do find hard to believe is that with all the time the news media have given Cheney to spew venom, none have seen fit to confront him with his lies and contradictions.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on January 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

It's not surprising that Bush?Cheney kept no coherent files on these guys. The reason for keeping meticulous records--recording interviews, cross-referencing what each detainee says about the others, maintaining a chain of custody for physical evidence--is so that you can successfully prosecute people in a tribunal that has some sort of evidentiary standards. But what if you think that you don't have to prosecute anyone? That you can just hold people forever and do whatever you want, with no possibility of judicial oversight? Then there's a lot less reason to keep good records. You just torture them for useful intelligence, and finding none, throw 'em back in the cell.

Posted by: WSP on January 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

no records == no legal exposure.

Posted by: eightnine2718281828mu5 on January 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Can it even be said that all these guys are returning to terrorism, if it was never proven anywhere that they were originally engaged in terrorist activities? Are some of them people who, upon being imprisoned in Guantanamo under dubious accusations, decided to take up arms against the US for the first time? I think it is an important distinction, as long as we're looking at the actual numbers.

Don't worry, I'm totally part of the blame America first crowd.

Posted by: Jamobey on January 7, 2010 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

A senior Obama administration official told Greg Sargent this morning just that -- the recidivists exist, but most, if not all, were released by the former administration.

The Obama administration is ostensibly withdrawing from Bush's war with the Iraqis while extending Bush's war with the Afghans as well as the Pakistanis and the Yemenis. Many Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and Yemenis will continue to have reason to question the righteousness of US attacks upon them. Prisoners are unlikely to feel warmly toward their captors, especially if their captors have accused them falsely, denied them the right to defend themselves, and abused them in captivity.

The dismount from the tiger is always dicey. The Obama administration has opted to continue the ride. Prisoners are likely become embittered. Released prisoners are likely to remain embittered over lingering injustice, not to mention continuing violent assault.

Release does not guarantee or merit forgiveness. We should not be surprised that the graduates of Guantanamo are willing to at least talk with those who oppose us.

Posted by: Boolaboola on January 7, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

The story is pretty vague on what constitutes 'engaged in terrorist activity' Not all warfare is terrorism.....

Posted by: Paul Dirks on January 7, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting the consistent use of the word RETURN. As in, all these people RETURNED to terrorist activities. I've said for years that most of the people at Gitmo probably weren't guilty of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, how many of that one-fifth RETURNED to terrorist activities and how many turned to terrorism as a way to get even with America for their false imprisonment? Makes me smile thinking of the rock and the hard place this puts Bush/Cheney in either way. They either let terrorists go free or they created terrorists by throwing innocent people into Gitmo and letting them rot there for years.

Posted by: 3reddogs on January 7, 2010 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

I think that you are incorrectly using the word "recidivists" here.

The prisoners who were let go, were freed because there was zero evidence against them, even using the very loose standard adopted by Bush's military tribunals for what is evidence. However, they were placed in a hell hole for years with genuine terrorists, and seriously abused. Some were tortured.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of them, on release, would be motivated to attack Americans for the very first time in their lives.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 7, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

"no records == no legal exposure."

exactly, 8-9; that was the single lesson that Cheney took most to heart from his stint in the Nixon White House. That's the pattern that you see all through the Bush administration. Naturally, nobody in government seems to feel this is a problem.

Posted by: JohnR on January 7, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

If the terrorists were relaesed under Bush, it was undoubtedly due to a misguided but sincere bipartisan effort to placate liberal terrorist sympathizers.

Posted by: Al on January 7, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

This story is very sad and potentially tragic for America, but not very surprising. I hope they are able to reconstruct the records.

I know I am a bleeding heart, but what about the people who were sold to our government for a bounty and are innocent? We will be paying a high price for many years for the Bush/Cheney misdeeds.

Posted by: Gracious on January 7, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well duh, of course team Bush didn't keep files. Can you imagine what those files would show? "...beat prisoner X to death," "waterboarded prisoner Y for the 183 time..." "had Blackwater contractor rape prisoner Z's children with a lightstick..."

Was team Bush incompetent? Sure. That is not to say they were good at nothing. Clearly they were very good at the CYA.

Posted by: nisl on January 7, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

This story can't be true. Just the other day that font of "Villager wisdom" Cokie Roberts, herself, told us that Dems are a bunch of terrorist loving wussies, but Republicans are cracker jack when it comes to fighting terrorism.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 7, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK


Where did this number come from? Out of somebodies ass?

We see these sorts of numbers all the time. If someone in power has an accurate understanding of who did or did not return to "terrorism" why are they still walking around free?

Smells like classic made-up self-serving shit to "prove" someone's under-informed theory to me....

Posted by: Joe on January 7, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Cheney needs to be prosecuted! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 7, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

How can proof that Guantanamo is a terrorist sieve, or maybe even a terrorist producer be a reason to not close Guantanamo?

Posted by: Boronx on January 7, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

What a mess those Bush guys made of these records. Now that Obama has been in charge for a year what evidence do we have that the Guantanamo Review Task Force has been doing great work?

The WP article is from Jan 2009. Steve, can you provide us with an update on how much things have improved under Obama's more competent management?

If they've stayed the same or gotten worse, maybe we should just drop the whole topic.

Posted by: Laura on January 7, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

So, if I fail to keep accurate financial records for the IRS, I am OK? Just tell them that I earned nothing or had expenses in excess of profits? Trust me!
Sounds good to me.
No account-ability.

Posted by: st john on January 7, 2010 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Can we send Cheney/Bush to the Hague, now?

Posted by: IntelVet on January 7, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

No files, not surprising at all given the track record. As noted before, if you think you will never see a courtroom, no need to keep files.

So, they're probably sadists.
Closeted perhaps, feel free to debate away on that, but inhumane for certain.

Anyhow, the items not observed here are the definition of terrorist activity [previously noted], AND the specifics (e.g. NAMES, dates of event, etc.) of those involved. Recall during the W regime, the US Iraqi command in the person of the "anonymous senior administration source" would frequently claim the same kind of thing as "justification" for permanent detention without habeas corpus, only to retract it quietly when the fact checkers started looking at the specifics.

This needs more digging.

Posted by: rugger0 on January 7, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Even Bush/Cheney critics might think, "Those guys were incompetent, but they weren't that incompetent."
But they actually were.

No, they weren't. They were protecting themselves from prosecution. The files they would have kept would have contained evidence of the war crimes they were perpetrating.

Posted by: Buckethead on January 7, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Anybody that's followed the trends in American business over the last thirty years knows that lousy record keeping, often masked by the amassing of large computer data, has been standard operating procedure and lies behind a lot of the so-called advances in efficiency and productivity.

Besides, it's part and parcel of the way a guy with Dick Cheney's skill set can make a fortune as a CEO.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on January 7, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

It's not surprising that Bush?Cheney kept no coherent files on these guys. The reason for keeping meticulous records--recording interviews, cross-referencing what each detainee says about the others, maintaining a chain of custody for physical evidence--is so that you can successfully prosecute people in a tribunal that has some sort of evidentiary standards.

Supposing, arguendo, that the Bushies didn't think they'd ever have to prosecute anyone, but they still wanted to keep us safe from terrorist threats, and believed that they might learn something about such threats from the Gitmo detainees.

I'd have expected them to want to know whether the fruits of one detainee's interrogations dovetailed with or contradicted those of other detainees. How else would they separate the wheat from the chaff? But this would have necessitated the keeping of thorough and accurate records about the interrogations.

Since there were no such records, I can only believe that the real reason for the interrogations was to beat the shit out of some ragheads in order to make the Bushies feel like they had bigger dicks than they actually did.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on January 7, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

That report is dubious at best. Suspected of terrorist activities ? That's the same bar Bush used to imprison them. How many have been convicted of a crime related to terrorism ?

They need to start rating these sort of estimations. Is there a 50% chance Joe Blow is engaged in terrorist activities or 10%. It would not hurt to define 'terrorist activities' either. Is he cooking them dinner because it's only job he could find, or is he building bombs.

A report of this nature, making some pretty damn bold claims should be able to quantify their conclusions. If not it's about as useful as most of the 'suspected' terrorists we sent to Gitmo.

Posted by: ScottW on January 7, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

It's a remarkable story. They really thought they were kings, and they could just throw people in the dungeon.

Posted by: Rathskeller on January 7, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

If you shot the wife and screwed the pooch,- or vice/versa- then threw me in a dark hole for a few years, I just MIGHT seek some vengeance when I got out. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 7, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

It seems Republicans kept better records on Quakers than they did on al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo.

On the up side, though, there have been no reports of Quakers being tortured.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 7, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

The recidivism is a red herring anyway. It doeesn't matter. Al Qaeda has plenty of operatives willing to do operations. They have plenty of people who will commit suicide for them. Unless the small proportion of released detainess who go on to commit terrorist acts are comprised of SUPERterrorists who can do what no one else can, it doesn't matter if the latest terrorist act was done by someone who was in Guantanamo before.

By the way, is anybody actually surprised that if you illegally detain a bunch of people indefinitely without representation or habeas corpus and torture them that some of them will go on to fight against you in the future if you let them go?

That's why its good policy to only detain people who actually deserve it and to give them just hearings so that the number of people going through the system who end up with a terrorism-inspiring legitimate complaint -- or who can convince themselves they have a legitimate complaint -- is minimized?

Posted by: The Fool on January 7, 2010 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

'no records == no legal exposure'
also = NOSHIT...Bushco did not consider these people PEOPLE. No records, no NOTHING. For a group that bitched about 'inside the Beltway' for so many years they sure were insular when they GOT there.

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 7, 2010 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Recidivists? Why do they have to be recidivists? If you were a completely innocent prisoner who lost a huge chunk of his life to somebody's paranoia you too might be tempted to join a terrorist organization by way of revenge. That doesn't make them recidivists.

Posted by: Peter G on January 7, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

If you were shipping people to black sites around the world would you keep records of it!

Posted by: mat1492 on January 7, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

As long as they keep people symbolically locked up they don't care. It's like how they want to hear the word 'terrorism' all the time, they think they make they're own reality.

They think it's all just pretend and everyone else is just like them.

Posted by: cld on January 7, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

"The story is pretty vague on what constitutes 'engaged in terrorist activity"

"That report is dubious at best. Suspected of terrorist activities?"

Never underestimate Mr. Benen's willingness to pass along neo-con propaganda if it can be used to make some pissant little point about Republican hypocrisy or inconsistencies. (As a few comments above have noted, that report, along with a similar one a few months ago, is suspect at best).

Legitimizing neo-con propaganda/framing, which is what mainstream liberals seem determined to do when they attack Republicans from a "more competent hawk" position (and also when Mr. Benen ridiculously complains that Republicans aren't "patriotic" or make us "less safe"), is DANGEROUS. There can be consequences - increased probability of future wars, to start.

Liberals playing this game either have neo-con sympathies, or are being played by them. It's fucked up.

Posted by: flubber on January 7, 2010 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that some prisoners known to be dangerous were deliberately released in the hope that they would succeed with an attack so that Republicans could claim it proof of a failure of the Obama administration.

I think the greater likelihood is that no one in the Bush administration gave a rat's ass whether their infighting would result in the release of someone who was an actual danger because, once Bush was out of office, it could all be blamed on the Democrats.

As was summarized here last week -- if something bad happens as a result of an action by a Republican, Democrats are at fault.

Posted by: karen marie on January 7, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

The 20% rate is highly suspect. In the past, the government's claims on this issue have been grossly inflated - as reports by Seton Hall's Mark Denbeaux has shown. The Pentagon was claiming in one report recently that 1 in 7 of the released prisoners had since engaged in terrorist-related acts. But the great majority of the former prisoners they were counting had no record of terrorism. The Pentagon was including e.g. men who'd spoken to journalists against US policies. Obviously the DOD has an interest in convincing the world that the Gitmo prisoners really were "the worst of the worst", notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: smintheus on January 7, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

This is hardly surprising. Can't you see good ol' Karl Rove and Cheney saying "Hey - they can't convict us of war crimes if there's no evidence!" Not keeping files is cheaper than a paper shredder.

Posted by: Limbaugh's Diabetes on January 7, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Much of the incompetence from Bush and his administration should also be attributed to laziness. These guys were the proverbial "Fed" employee who was just stealing the taxpayers money by doing as little as possible. One thing the taxpayers did not receive from Bush and his pals in high office was a good day's work for a good day's pay. Lazy and stupid are the best adjectives for this group of scumbags.

Posted by: Bonnie on January 8, 2010 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly