Now that Guantanamo Bay is closing, conservatives would have us believe that the detainees there represent the worst of the worst from Iraq and Afghanistan, even though no case against them has ever been presented and none of them have ever officially been found guilty of anything.
But now we’re learning that there aren’t even case files on many of the inmates at Guantanamo:
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.
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.
“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 [a] 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.
(Yes, because we all know how credible the Pentagon’s analyses are.)
But there is a strong chance that the above-quoted official is right about how dangerous some of the men at Guantanamo are. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether they’re actually guilty of the crimes they’re alleged to have committed ; in fact, for many of them there aren’t even any comprehensive case files to review. With the closing of Guantanamo, though, cases will be built against those inmates who have done something wrong.
The question is, what do we do with those inmates after the criminal justice system has their say? Well, the GOP’s solution is–and I’m not kidding–“send them to Nancy Pelosi’s district!” Minority Leader Boehner actually suggested sending them to San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island, even though Alcatraz hasn’t been a functional prison in decades. So, while the adults are trying to figure out what to do with Guantanamo’s inmates, the Republicans are content to fling rubber bands from the back of the classroom (and they wonder why nobody votes for them anymore).
Here’s how you deal with the inmates from Guantanamo–first, find a place for those 60 inmates already cleared for release, as well as those found not guilty in a court of law. Fortunately, several European nations have already agreed to take inmates found not guilty and who therefore pose no security risk.
Second, we need to determine where we will imprison those detainees actually found guilty of engaging in terrorist activity. That also won’t be too difficult–Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is open to the idea of housing inmates at Florence, CO’s supermax prison.
Supermax prisons are built to house the worst of the worst, the inmates who pose the greatest threat to civilians and who are too dangerous to even be allowed to interact with other inmates. Some of the current residents of the Florence supermax are: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, American Taliban John Walker Lindh, 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, Oklahoma City bomber and Timothy McVeigh partner Terry Nichols, would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.
In other words, the American justice system already has a place where extraordinarily dangerous mass murderers are kept. And conditions at the Florence supermax are not ideal:
They exist alone in soundproof cells as small as 7 feet by 12 feet, with a concrete-poured desk, bed and stool, a small shower and sink, and a TV that offers religious and anger-management programs.
They are locked down 23 hours a day.
Larry Homenick, a former U.S. marshal who has taken prisoners to Supermax, said that there was a small triangular recreation area, known as “the dog run,” where solitary Supermax prisoners could occasionally get a glimpse of sky.
Life there is harsh. Food is delivered through a slit in the cell door. Prisoners don’t leave their cells to see a lawyer, a doctor or a prison official; those visitors must go to the cell.
The federal Supermax prison in Colorado was opened in November 1994. Nobody has escaped.
Inmates at supermax facilities are there for incapacitation, not punishment; there is no pretense that any of the inmates held there will ever be released or returned to society. Heck, that’s the entire point.
In other words, it’s just like Guantanamo Bay, except there’s no torture and the inmates there have actually been found guilty of something. Make no mistake about it, those at Guantanamo who are found guilty deserve to be locked up for life, but we should make sure that those being imprisoned indefinitely have actually done something to deserve it, first. And the unseriousness of the Republican Party on this issue is simply astounding.
UPDATE: On further consideration, I have two more things to add.
First, why do Republicans have such a problem with Obama releasing inmates from Guantanamo? The Bush administration released hundreds of inmates from Gitmo over the years with hardly a protest at all from Republicans.
At it’s peak, Guantanamo held nearly 600 detainees; now there are only 245, meaning that President Obama will end up releasing far fewer detainees than President Bush ever did. So why is there an outcry against doing this now when there wasn’t one before?
Second, this entire Guantanamo mess was created by the Bush administration in the first place. They figured they would throw these guys in a hole and let some future administration deal with them. What did Republicans think would happen–that we’d keep those detainees there forever? That 50 years from now we’d have a few hundred grizzled terrorists under lock and key at a military prison in Cuba? Didn’t they stop and think that, at some point, something would have to be done with the inmates at Guantanamo?
The Bush administration created a system they knew was untenable in the long term. Instead of simply trying the detainees and incarcerating the guilty ones in a supermax prison (or a high security military prison like Ft. Leavenworthth), they chose to dump them in a hole somewhere without a trial and didn’t even bother compiling complete case files on them.
So now we have a few hundred detainees of dubious guilt being kept indefinitely in a military prison and we have to figure out what to do with them. If Republicans want to complain about Obama closing Gitmo, maybe they should be blaming the Bush administration for instituting this system in the first place and leaving us with 245 men with possible (but unproven) guilt who we have to now deal with. Had the Bush administration come up with a better solution years ago, President Obama wouldn’t have to worry about what to do about Gitmo.
UPDATE II: Someone’s walking back his claims:
According to the Jan. 25 account, Charles D. “Cully” Stimson, who served as deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs in 2006-2007, “said he had persistent problems in attempts to assemble all information on individual cases.”
But in a brief interview to double-check his statement Monday afternoon, Stimson maintained, “I never said they were in disarray.”
“They were spread throughout the government – that’s true,” Stimson added. He said his aides could obtain the records via a computer data search or a specific request to the CIA or other agency.
“Not all information was in a single database. It was appropriately compartmented in appropriate places in the federal government,” he said.
“I may be that Obama’s officials,” Stimson said, “or at least some of some of them, don’t have any government experience.”
See, the files aren’t in disarray! The information just isn’t all in one place. In fact, it’s scattered across a variety of government agencies. And you have to go to each separately in order to get complete information on any detainee. And you have to have an intricate knowledge of the federal bureaucracy to figure the whole system out.
Stimson is currently employed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which tells you everything you need to know about this correction. And it’s not much of a correction–saying that the information is spread across a variety of agencies and that you need to know the federal bureaucracy like the back of your hand to get it all means that, yes, the case files are in disarray. If they weren’t, all the information would be in one place easily accessible to top-ranking officials.
Nice try, though.