At 12:01 P.M. on January 20, 2009, minutes before Barack Obama was sworn in as president, the first post went up on the Obama White House website. It included a reiteration of a campaign promise Obama repeatedly made: "President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history."
Two days later, Obama ordered the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay closed. And two days after that, on January 24, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff wrote about a Pentagon study that will provide an early test of this promise: "The report, which could be released within the next few days, will provide fresh details about 62 detainees who have been released from Guantánamo and are believed by U.S. intelligence officials to have returned to terrorist activities."
The report was not, in fact, released within the next few days. On February 2, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, the Pentagon spokesman who handles inquiries about Guantánamo, told us that the report would likely be released later that day. We were told to consult the website--defenselink.mil--that afternoon. No report. When we asked where it was, Commander Gordon wrote: "Nothing today, please check back with me in a couple days." We did. No report.
This pattern has repeated itself for a month. So what explains this failure to produce the report?
According to Gordon:
there may be a misunderstanding between when the updated threat analysis was delivered from DIA and the completion of an interagency review process prior to public release.
My understanding is that several requests have been received by our OSD FOIA office and it is being processed for a decision concerning release. If you would like to submit a FOIA request as well, below is a link for your convenience.
Right. So a report that was to have been released on February 2 was suddenly and inexplicably withheld.
The most transparent administration in history apparently realized that releasing a report about the recidivism of Guantánamo detainees could only complicate its effort to shut down the facility. The approximately 247 detainees still held there are the worst of the terrorists captured by the United States since 9/11. Those thought to have been low-risk releases have already been let go. And many of them turned out not to have been low-risk at all. Saudi Arabia recently published a list of its 85 most wanted terrorists; 11 of them had been detained at Guantánamo Bay.
Said Ali al-Shihri, who disappeared from his home in Saudi Arabia after spending months in a Saudi jihad rehabilitation program, recently showed up in a video posted on a jihadist website. He is now the deputy leader of al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, which bombed the American embassy in Sana'a in September 2008. That attack killed 13 civilians, as well as six terrorists.
Mohammed Naim Farouq was released from Gitmo in July 2003. In 2006, the Defense Intelligence Agency listed him as one of the 20 most wanted terrorists operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Abdullah Saleh al Ajmi, a Kuwaiti, was detained at Gitmo, released, and then blew himself up in Mosul, Iraq, in March 2008. The attack killed 13 Iraqi soldiers and wounded dozens more.
Ibrahim Bin Shakaran and Mohammed Bin Ahmad Mizouz were both transferred from Guantánamo to Morocco in July 2004. In September 2007, they were convicted of being recruiters for Al Qaeda in Iraq.
These are detainees that the U.S. government determined were good candidates for release. The ones who remain in Guantánamo are not. "In some cases, we do know that they'll return to the battlefield because they've told us they will," says Juan Zarate, counterterrorism czar in the Bush White House.
The question for the new president and his advisers is what is an acceptable level of risk. "They may say 'These guys are dangerous but it's better than keeping them,' " says Zarate. But "the government needs to be very clear and honest about who these guys are and take any such step to release them with our eyes wide open."
Being clear and honest means sharing with Congress and the American public as much information as possible. Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman is calling for the report's release: "We know that a number of detainees who have been released have returned to the battlefield to attack Americans and American interests abroad. The American people need to know what is in the report so that Congress can make an informed decision on what to do with the detainees currently held at Guantánamo and with combatants captured in the future in the war on terror."
Even George W. Bush did better. In June 2008, the Pentagon released a partial list of recidivist Guantánamo alumni. Is it the case that the Obama administration, just six weeks in, is not even as transparent as the super-secretive Bush administration?
--Stephen F. Hayes & Thomas Joscelyn