At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, asked Attorney General Eric Holder to produce a list of Department of Justice employees who had been involved in representing detainees. Holder said he’d consider the request.
Three months later he denied it. In a letter to Grassley on February 18, Holder acknowledged that nine Justice Department officials had worked on behalf of detainees before joining the Obama administration. The names of two of those officials—Jennifer Daskal and Neal Katyal—had been reported publicly. But Holder refused to disclose the other seven and allowed that there could well be more than nine.
This refusal by the Justice Department is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s near-obsessive secrecy on issues related to Guantánamo Bay and detainees. Given how Obama started his presidency, it’s ironic.
Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009. On January 21, he ordered government agencies to operate with transparency and openness—he had repeatedly pledged on the campaign trail to make his the “most transparent administration in history.” On January 22, he ordered the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay closed within a year. These were plainly among the highest priorities of a new administration that had designs on changing Washington.
Since then, however, Obama’s determination to close Guantánamo has left his openness promises in tatters. The administration has steadfastly refused to provide the public with information on the efforts to close Guantánamo, the lawyers working on detainee issues, and, most disturbing, the detainees themselves.
The secrecy started early. In early February 2009, The Weekly Standard requested a report on Guantánamo Bay recidivism from the Pentagon. We were initially told that we would have it within days. Then it would take weeks. Then months. The Pentagon finally posted a “fact sheet” on the report in April but only after its contents had been widely reported based on leaks.
We requested the updated version of the recidivism report last fall. Although administration officials have referred to its findings in public, the report itself remains classified and unavailable to the public.
So, too, are thousands of pages of documents on the Guantánamo detainees the Obama administration has transferred or released over the past 14 months. When Obama came to office there were approximately 242 detainees remaining at Guantánamo. With a few exceptions, these individuals were still at Gitmo for a very good reason: They were among the most dangerous of the jihadists captured by the United States since September 11, 2001.
There are now 188 detainees at Guantánamo. Who are the 54 detainees no longer there? Sometimes the Obama administration chose to tell us and sometimes it did not. Where did they go? Are they being monitored? By whom? Do they still pose a danger to the United States?
In most cases, we have no idea. And the White House refuses to talk about it.
“We just aren’t going to get into the specifics of agreements that are ultimately made in terms of transfer.”
That was Robert Gibbs at the White House briefing on January 11, responding to questions from reporters on the transfer and release of detainees.
Here was his boss in his speech at the National Archives in May:
I ran for president promising transparency. And I meant what I said. And that is why, whenever possible, my administration will make all information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.
Whenever possible? It’s certainly possible to provide more information on the detainees being transferred or released—many of whom have strong ties to al Qaeda. Consider the case of Abdullahi Sudi Arale, who was sent to Guantánamo Bay on June 6, 2007.
The Pentagon certainly considered him a highly dangerous terrorist at that time: “Abdullahi Sudi Arale is suspected of being a member of the al Qaeda terrorist network in East Africa, serving as a courier between East Africa Al Qaeda (EAAQ) and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Since his return from Pakistan to Somalia in September 2006, he has held a leadership role in the EAAQ-affiliated Somali Council of Islamic Courts (CIC).” The Pentagon noted that there was “significant information available” to demonstrate Arale’s assistance to terrorists “in acquiring weapons and explosives” and his role in “facilitat[ing] terrorist travel by providing false documents” for al Qaeda and other terrorists.