Guantanamo Documents Show Detention Policies Were a Failure

McClatchy's Carol Rosenberg and Tom Lasseter have an analysis of the new Guantanamo documents released by Wikileaks to various news organizations. Shorter version: Bush and Rumsfeld's detention and interrogation policies were a flub.

a collection of secret intelligence documents from George W. Bush's administration, not meant to surface for 20 years, shows that the military's efforts at Guantánamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America's experiment at Guantánamo "quite simply a mess."

The information from detainee-informants was unreliable. [More...]

Intelligence analysts are at odds with each other over which informants to trust, at times drawing inferences from prisoners exercise habits. They ordered DNA tests, tethered Taliban suspects to polygraphs, strung together tidbits at times in ways that seemed to defy common sense.

The detainees' defense lawyers, who accused the Bush administration of allowing Chinese and Russian interrogators to interrogate their clients at Gitmo, turned out to be right. It happened.


[T]here's not a whiff in the documents that any of the work is leading the U.S. closer to capturing bin Laden. In fact, they suggest a sort of mission creep beyond the post-9/11 goal of using interrogations to hunt down the al Qaeda inner circle and sleeper cells.

If you are wondering how the major news outlets managed to read and dissect the documents so quickly, McClatchy informs us that they got the documents last month on an embargoed basis. Wikileaks lifted the embargo last night because the documents got transferred to other news organizations who were going to publish articles about them. Michael Calderone at HuffPo has more on the news organizations competing for the Wikileaks documents.

The documents cover 2002 to 2008.

The ACLU weighs in here.

“These documents are remarkable because they show just how questionable the government’s basis has been for detaining hundreds of people, in some cases indefinitely, at Guantánamo. The one-sided assessments are rife with uncorroborated evidence, information obtained through torture, speculation, errors and allegations that have been proven false.

“The documents are the fruit of the original sin by which the rule of law was scrapped when Guantanámo detainees were first rounded up. If the government had followed the law, it would have established a meaningful and prompt process to separate the innocent from those who are legally detainable.”

The U.S. will never live down the stain caused by Guantanamo under G.W. Bush and his cronies, and by our current Congress which has blocked its closure and the trial of the remaining detainees in federal criminal court.

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    If these policies were a "flub" under (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by Anne on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 08:18:35 PM EST
    Bush/Cheney, what, if anything, has the Obama administration done to change that?

    Not much, I don't think.

    And, I don't know, maybe it's me, but somehow the word "flub" connotes more of a benign clumsiness than what I think was happening - and continues to this day.

    From Glenn Greenwald:

    Perhaps most important of all, these documents conclusively underscore the evils of the Obama administration's indefinite detention regime. Just last month, President Obama signed an Executive Order directing that dozens of detainees held for years at Guantanamo continue to be imprisoned indefinitely without any charges: either in a real court or even before a military commission. Although indefinite detention was one of the primary hallmarks of Bush/Cheney radicalism, this order was justified by the White House and its followers on the ground that the President knows of secret evidence that shows that these detainees are Too Dangerous to Release, yet cannot be prosecuted because the evidence against them is tainted (see this post for why that line of reasoning is so logically and morally twisted).

    The idea of trusting the government to imprison people for life based on secret, untested evidence never reviewed by a court should repel any decent or minimally rational person, but these newly released files demonstrate how warped is this indefinite detention policy specifically.  The New Yorker's Amy Davidson highlights some of the most extreme inanities in how "evidence" was assembled, while McClatchy's Carol Rosenberg describes just some of the reasons to find this "evidence" so unreliable: beyond the fact that so much of it was extracted using torture

    Just one more thing that has been a huge disappointment from Obama - but this goes to such essential elements of democracy that I find it utterly inexcusable.

    Congress blocked Obama's attempt (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 08:33:47 PM EST
    to close Gitmo and try detainees in federal court by passage of bills in the funding legislation. Unfortunately, too many Democrats in Congress sided with Republicans on the issue.

    Other than finding non-government funding, what else could Obama have done to close Gitmo?

    Yes, he broke a campaign promise, but he was blocked by Congress.

    The valid criticism against Obama is that even if Gitmo closed, he said some detainees would continue to be held in indefinite detention (because there wasn't sufficient evidence aside from their coerced statements produced under torture) and that the revamped military commissions are not much of an improvement over the old Bush rules.

    Those are related, but not quite the same issue, as closing Gitmo. Blaming Obama for the ill-advised and unfair indefinite detention policy and the military commissions is fine. But for not closing Gitmo, unless you can come up with a way he could close it after Congress passed the laws as part of the funding measure, I don't think it's quite fair to lay the blame for Gitmo's continued existence on him. The blame goes to Congress. And particularly those  Demmocrats like Schumer, who acted out of their own self interest to oppose closing Gitmo because it would be inconvenient to hold a trial in his precious New York, and Durbin, who just kow-towed to Republicans.


    Based on what I read in the WaPo's (5.00 / 5) (#4)
    by Anne on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 09:21:05 PM EST
    rather long piece in Sunday's paper, Obama didn't try very hard to lobby Congress; there was no arm-twisting, no come-to-Jesus type horse-trading.  The plan to settle the Uighurs in northern Virginia died when one - one - member of Congress wrote Obama an angry letter of objection.

    From the Post article (the site keeps hanging up for me, so I don't have the link):

    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, according to some inside the administration as well as on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the failed effort to close Guantanamo was reflective of the aspects of Obama's leadership style that continue to distress his liberal base -- a willingness to allow room for compromise and a passivity that at times permits opponents to set the agenda.

    The president answered questions about his Guantanamo policy when asked, but only once in two years, other than in a major speech at the National Archives, did he raise the issue on his own.


    The one theme that repeatedly emerged in interviews was a belief that the White House never pressed hard enough on what was supposed to be a signature goal. Although the closure of Guantanamo Bay was announced in an executive order, which Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, the fanfare never translated into the kind of political push necessary to sustain the policy.

    "Vulnerable senators weren't going out on a limb and risk being Willie Hortonized on Gitmo when the White House, with the most to lose, wasn't even twisting arms," said a senior Democratic aide whose boss was one of 50 Democrats to vote in 2009 against funding to close Guantanamo. "They weren't breathing down our necks pushing the vote or demanding unified action."


    On May 20, 2009, as part of a war-funding request, the Senate voted 90 to 6 against appropriating $80 million to close Guantanamo. "Americans don't want some of the most dangerous men alive coming here," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor of the chamber, adding that he commended Senate Democrats for "fulfilling their oversight responsibilities."

    Senior administration officials said they were stunned by the vote. In hindsight, officials said, they should have taken the budding Republican narrative more seriously. "We weren't very effective at rebutting it," one senior official said.

    "I got calls all the time: `Where are you guys?' `Why aren't you up here working the issue?' " Craig said.

    That would be Greg Craig, who finally left the administration because his views couldn't get any traction within the WH.

    The president has, arguably, the biggest bully pulpit, and this president came into office on a wave of anti-Bush sentiment; rather than leverage that mandate on Guantanamo, he spent it all on what ended up being a terrible health "care" bill.

    Does Congress bear some responsibility?  Of course.  But Obama's supposed to be a leader, and I think leadership was woefully lacking on this issue.


    I always marvel (2.00 / 3) (#6)
    by Politalkix on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 10:38:21 PM EST
    at your selective memory. During the campaign, BHO always touted his community organizer form of leadership. He always said that he believed that change came from the bottom up and not top down.
    It is too bad that Senators and Representatives in his Party and a lot of his critics in TL were expecting him to lead them in a way a General leads his troops. Can't they be responsible for anything?
    The community organizer form of leadership was the antidote to the authoritarian kind of leadership displayed by GWB which drove most people up the wall. How quickly we forget!

    I don't think (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 01:05:48 AM EST
    very many people actually heard it, or listened to those of us who did when we tried repeatedly to point it out.

    But you're right, he made it very clear to anybody who was actually paying attention.

    Twisting arms isn't something Obama believes in doing most of the time.


    I have noticed (none / 0) (#19)
    by Politalkix on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 10:42:02 AM EST
    that assessment of leadership varies across generations and cultures.Younger generations resent hierarchial leadership models that appeal to older generations.and what passes as strong leadership among a lot of americans would be seen as boorish leadership to most scandinavians.During the presidency of gwb, a lot of people resented his authoritarian style, stubborness, ideological rigidity, and inability to concede mistakes he had made. They wanted the next president to be.the anti-bush in personality, someone who could be more conciliatory towards people he or she disagreed with..However a lot of people in this blog seemed to have wanted a gwb persona representing their side. In my opinion, this I'd where the disconnect lies.. .    

    That's true (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by sj on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 10:53:42 AM EST
    But one doesn't have to be authoritarian to be strong.  And it isn't "strength" that seemed boorish to scandinavians (and others), it was actually boorishness.

    It isn't either stubborn and rigid OR weak and conciliatory.  It's a spectrum, not a polarity.  So I think your perception as to what most people in the blog wanted in a President is a bit skewed.  It certainly way off-base when describing what I personally wanted in a Democratic president.


    I was then, and am not now, under (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Anne on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 06:56:03 AM EST
    any illusions about what kind of "leader" Obama was or is; perhaps you have selectively forgotten that I wasn't one of those who was sure that underneath Obama's cool exterior lurked the white-hot heart of a liberal firebrand.

    No, he's not a leader - not by my definition; but he is in the sense that others take their cue from him and how he acts or fails to act - which is what Democrats in Congress did, apparently, believing that the WH's lack of involvement meant they understood the political peril of voting to close Gitmo and it was okay to sink the funding to do it.  Not a lot of courage in evidence on any front, sadly.

    On health care, he was more involved - way more involved - making deals left and right, using Max Baucus as point man, so that should tell anyone who's paying attention that when he wants something badly enough, when he's weighed the political costs and decided he can take a side instead of fade into the background and let others be on the firing line, he can crank it up a couple notches from his usual laissez-faire style.

    He's the president; he's accountable, regardless of who he said he was before, during or after the election.


    Argh... that should be "I was NOT then, (none / 0) (#12)
    by Anne on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 07:08:56 AM EST
    and am not now..."

    My brain was thinking that, but my fingers must not be awake enough to obey...or my eyes weren't awake enough to realize the error before I posted.  Even with "preview!"


    I always marvel ... (5.00 / 5) (#17)
    by Yman on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 08:51:42 AM EST
    ... at those who excuse Obama's weak leadership by pointing to something Obama said during his campaign.  When Obama was campaigning, he said virtually everything to everyone, and his promises varied depending on his audience.

    Maybe he should have run for "Community Organizer of the United States" instead of POTUS ... or, at least be a little more honest with his slogans.  

    Then again, "Change ... if you do it for me", doesn't really have quite the same ring to it.


    Meh (none / 0) (#16)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 08:05:10 AM EST
    that promise of ground up change had a lot more meaning when the OFA was still being used smartly and functioning effectively (the nation).  Or if outside liberal groups reflecting popularly polling ideas were embraced (the nation).  The idea of "ground up change" has been defined about as effectively as "Change" in this Administration.

    The whole "ground up" thing (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by sj on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 11:05:26 AM EST
    is a total canard.  Remember how tightly the White House pulled the leash on the DNC when the DNC started to come out in support of the union protesters in Wisconsin?

    "Ground up" (none / 0) (#22)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 01:12:13 PM EST
    seems to mean "call/blame your Congress(wo)man."  Which is a shame because part of the reason some blogrunning Obama supporters liked Obama IIRC was that he had the potential to change grassroots organizing.  I wish he had.

    That's not ground up (none / 0) (#23)
    by sj on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 01:15:58 PM EST
    but it could very well be what they mean.  Because our congresspeople already have the infrastructure in place to easily ignore their constituents.

    And that's only a slight exaggeration.


    Haha! (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 03:47:46 PM EST
    Because our congresspeople already have the infrastructure in place to easily ignore their constituents.

    This is true...

    Who knows what they mean.  Or what "ground up" means.  If "ground up" meant what it seemed to mean, you would think the Obama Administration would have embraced Jane Hamsher (or any of the other public option advocate groups as I know Hamsher is controversial) and the ACA would've turned out differently.


    I keep reading "ground up" as (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Anne on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 03:59:17 PM EST
    something that describes hamburger - and "ground up change" as what I feel like I have in my wallet - as opposed to a direction; maybe it needed a hyphen or something, or maybe I'm just having one of those days.

    Grassroots organization seems to be good for only one thing where Obama is concerned: raising money; there seem to feel no obligation to give the people any return on their investment.


    I would have really liked (none / 0) (#27)
    by Politalkix on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 08:21:55 PM EST
    the WH to bring Howard Dean into the administration. Do not really blame the WH for not embracing the Jane Hamshers and Glenn Greenwalds...
    While I am disappointed that the PO did not materialize in the ACA, I really do not think that the President worked to get it dropped as some of you seem to suspect. Negotiations went through many twists and turns. Many in the left side of the political spectrum could have played a more constructive role if they did not make the miscalculation that they could get what they wanted by trying to embarass the President. I have included a link which can shed some light about why the Medicare buy-in option was discarded at the end.
    All water under the bridge now...  

    It didn't "materialize" ... (none / 0) (#28)
    by Yman on Wed Apr 27, 2011 at 08:10:34 AM EST
    ... because rather than fighting for it, Obama was secretly negotiating a backroom deal with the health insurance companies, while at the same time promising a public option.

    Even while President Obama was saying that he thought a public option was a good idea and encouraging supporters to believe his healthcare plan would include one, he had promised for-profit hospital lobbyists that there would be no public option in the final bill...

    (BTW - Love the choice of words - passive tense, so no responsibility on Obama's part, and "materialize", suggesting a magical - but unrealistic expectation - of something magical appearing out of thin air.  Good stuff.)

    But, oh well ... it's just "water under the bridge", now.

    Ces la vie.


    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#18)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 09:34:22 AM EST
    I have mentioned this numerous times.

    Obama screwed this up, as Commander in Chief, he had/has complete autonomy in how Gitmo is run.  He did/does not need to go to Congress on funding to transfer military prisoners, this was part of his kumbaya approach, and it was an epoch failure.  

    Who in the F goes to Congress about something so mundane as funds for transferring military prisoners.  Unheard of.  

    What's next, ask Congress to fund the dollars it takes to deploy fleet for training ?  It's all part of the DoD/National Defense budget, which has a huge discretionary fund so that the Commander in Chief doesn't have to beg Congress for each bomb dropped or each ship needing repairs.


    Back up a bit (none / 0) (#24)
    by jbindc on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 03:31:27 PM EST
    Yes, he broke a campaign promise, but he was blocked by Congress

    He made a campaign promise that was naive at best, ignorant maybe, a complete lie, at worst.

    I remember the minute I heard him saying that, my first thought was, "No, you really won't."  But yet, so many people bought it.  It emphasized the lack of national experience and showed that he had no freakin' clue what was about to happen, should he win.

    Newsweek ran a piece in November of 2008 titled, "The Gitmo Dilemma: Four Reasons Obama close the controversial prison soon."

    Congress didn't withhold the funds until much later - a blind person could have seen it coming.


    Indefinite detention (none / 0) (#14)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 07:53:05 AM EST
    is a separate issue as letting Guantanamo linger on and on.

    Re: the WaPo article, it's not shocking to me that Obama has not prioritized closing Guantanamo or that he has been ineffective in "combating Republican narratives."  If you're going to blame not taking policy actions on "politics" you might want to get better at combating those narratives though.

    Of course, from WaPo, I thought this was funny:

    "During 2009 and early 2010, he is totally engaged in the struggle to get health-care reform," a White House participant said when asked about the president's engagement with the effort to close Guantanamo. "That occupies his mind, and his time."

    That 11th dimensional chess sure takes a lot out of you (I'm sure he was busy on the subject, but still).


    oops (none / 0) (#15)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 07:54:15 AM EST
    is a separate issue as letting Guantanamo linger on and on.

    should be a separate issue "from"


    I assume the answer is not (2.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Green26 on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 11:07:52 PM EST
    to just release them? The NY Times summaries seemed to indicate that many of these guys were fairly high up in AQ and ready to rejoin the fight if released. Personally, I think the US, under Bush and Obama administrations, have done a pretty good job of preventing future 911 and similar events. I believe in criminal procedure and rights, but I'm not so bothered that these guys, who are not US citizens or from the US, don't have US-style rights.

    Actually (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by sj on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 02:43:29 AM EST
    911 happened under Bush.  Who had fair warning.  So no.  He didn't do a good job of prevention.  Obama has done as well on that as Clinton and Bush I and Reagan and Carter and Ford and Nixon and Johnson and Kennedy and Eisenhower and ...

    And they all managed to do it without civil liberties infringements.


    Well, at least they didn't tunnel out of Gitmo (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 08:51:18 PM EST
    From the post two below this one:

    "The Taliban spent the past 5 months building a 1,060 foot underground tunnel that led directly into Sarposa Prison in Khandahar and broke out 575 inmates, including about 100 Taliban commanders."

    I am sure (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Politalkix on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 10:03:39 PM EST
    that because of the escape of 575 Taliban/Al Qaeda inmates in Afghanistan, a lot of GOPers are wetting their bed tonight.

    Digby today on Wiki dump: (none / 0) (#8)
    by oculus on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 11:34:41 PM EST

    This information does not make me proud to be a U.S. citizen.  

    We shouldn't have this (none / 0) (#13)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 07:43:53 AM EST
    made clear to us through Wikileaks.  Although an attentive observer would've picked up a lot of what was revealed anyway over the past few years from committed journalists and bloggers.

    I'm still pissed that we haven't had prosecutions, or a Truth Commission, or anything.  Absolutely nothing has occurred that would prevent a GOP Administration from putting those types of policies back in place.  How many times does history have to repeat itself?  It's truly absurd.