Yesterday, the New York Times and other news outlets reported on a “trove of more than 700 classified military documents” that provide ”new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there.” The documents were obtained by the open government website WikiLeaks but obtained by the Times through another source. The documents reveal details about detainee behavior and treatment, but are “silent about the use of the harsh interrogation tactics at Guantánamo — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — that drew global condemnation.”
THE DETAILS: The Times editorializes today that the documents serve as “a chilling reminder of the legal and moral disaster that President George W. Bush created” at Gitmo and “describe the chaos, lawlessness and incompetence in his administration’s system for deciding detainees’ guilt or innocence and assessing whether they would be a threat if released.” “Innocent men were picked up on the basis of scant or nonexistent evidence and subjected to lengthy detention and often to abuse and torture,” the Times editorial notes, adding that suicides there “were regarded only as a public relations problem.” The documents show that there were 158 detainees “who did not receive a formal hearing under a system instituted in 2004. Many were assessed to be ’of little intelligence value’ with no ties to or significant knowledge about Al Qaeda or the Taliban.” The Guardian notes that 212 Afghans at Gitmo were either “entirely innocent,” “mere Taliban conscripts” or “had been transferred to Guantanamo with no reason for doing so.” Among inmates who proved harmless were an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim. The so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Qahtani, “was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself.” And U.S. forces held Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman for Al-Jazeera, for 6 years before finally letting him go. Hajj had insisted he was just a journalist and he went back to work for Al-Jazeera after his release.
DOUBLE GUANTANAMO?: The idea of Guantanamo has become so toxic internationally that even military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus want it shut down. “Gitmo has caused us problems, there’s no question about it,” Petraeus said in 2009, adding, “I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us.” Yet at the same time, others sing Guantanamo’s praises. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), who will likely run for president next year, said in his last campaign for the White House that the prison needs to be expanded, not closed. “I want them on Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons, I want them there,” Romney said during a 2007 presidential debate. “Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is we ought to double Guantanamo,” he later added.
FAILING TO CLOSE GITMO: Just three years ago, closing the Guantanamo Bay prison had broad bipartisan support. While Obama campaigned on closing Gitmo, even Republicans, including President Bush and Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), agreed. But Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent announcement that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed would be tried in a military tribunal instead of a civilian court all but ended any hopes that the prison would be closed anytime soon. Yet, as the Washington Post chronicled last weekend, “For more than two years, the White House’s plans had been undermined by political miscalculations, confusion and timidity in the face of mounting congressional opposition.” Who’s fault is it that Gitmo is still open? While Democrats in Congress largely abandoned the President, the White House didn’t exactly put a lot of political capital on the line either. As former White House counsel Greg Craig noted, “There was a real serious problem of coordination in this whole thing.” Indeed, the administration had planned to transfer some uncontroversial detainees to Northern Virginia but abandoned the move at the last hour after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) discovered that Gitmo detainees would be moving to his district. The White House never cleared their plan with Wolf. Since then, as Obama noted last year, Gitmo has “been subject to a lot of…pretty rank politics.” And as “Not In My Backyard” cries from members of Congress intensified, the legislative branch eventually cut off funds to close Gitmo and approved a measure to bar any detainees from being relocated to the United States.