In a remarkable interview that aired on "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Barack Obama criticized the Bush administration on Guantanamo Bay, suggesting that his predecessors had done a poor job determining which Gitmo prisoners were okay to release and which ones should have remained in detention.
"Well, there is no doubt that we have not done a particularly effective job in sorting through who are truly dangerous individuals that we've got to make sure are not a threat to us, who are folks that we just swept up," Obama told Steve Kroft of CBS News.
Of the approximately 250 detainees currently at Guantanamo, no more than a handful could be counted as "folks that we just swept up." And yet it is the policy of the Obama administration to release some 20 percent of them so that they might "make a future for themselves" back in their home countries. The vast majority of that 20 percent are individuals with known ties to al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist groups -- many of them having been recruited by al Qaeda, hosted in al Qaeda safehouses and trained in al Qaeda camps.
How is it that President Obama can criticize the Bush administration as too lenient and, at the same time, favor policies that would release known jihadists? The Obama administration is confused.
On January 24, more than two months ago, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reported on a new Pentagon report on former Guantanamo detainees who had returned to the jihad after their release. The report, he wrote, could be released in days.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD followed up. On the morning of February 2, Pentagon spokesman Jeffrey Gordon told us to check the Pentagon website -- www.defenselink.mil -- for the report. We did. It wasn't there.
It hasn't been released. And it now looks like the Pentagon is attempting to hide it further behind a bureaucratic blind. In an email two weeks ago, we were told that in order to see the report we would have to submit a Freedom of Information Act request -- a process that can take months, even years. Why did the the self-described "most transparent administration in history" suddenly reverse itself? Where is the report?
A growing chorus of individuals and organizations are now demanding that the buried Gitmo report be released.
Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, says: "Whenever an official makes a statement and promises to release more detail, they better well release more detail. The public deserves to know what's going on with this report."
Independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman told THE WEEKLY STANDARD: "We know that a number of detainees who have been released have returned to the battle field 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 Guantanamo and with combatants captured in the future in the war on terror."
Republican Senator Jim Inhofe says: "I encourage President Obama and his Administration to be forthcoming with the details of the Pentagon report on detainees who have been released from GITMO and returned to the battlefield. This Administration has ensured Americans it will be more transparent than its predecessors. I hope that they live up to those standards and release the details of this report, letting Americans know the potential implications of hastily closing GITMO as they currently plan. The truth is, many of the detainees held at GITMO are very dangerous, and several of the most dangerous, upon release, have returned to the battlefield as terrorists against America."
As it happens, the continued suppression of the Gitmo report took place during national "Sunshine Week," a "national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information," sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In a nod toward increased government openness, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he would order government agencies to lean towards openness and transparency when considering the public disclosure of government information. It's a move that won him high praise from transparency advocates. But the Obama administration risks losing that good will -- or at least putting it at risk -- if it engages in selective openness.
"In only a few months, the Obama administration has not only given us relief from the infamous 'Ashcroft memo' with Thursday's new 'Holder memo' returning government to a presumption of openness, but it also has indicated it's real commitment to finding ways to improve transparency using technolgy," says Debra Gersh Hernandez, coordinator of Sunshine Week for the ASNE. "These are remarkable and encouraging moves that should be applauded. That said, it remains crucial that the watchdogs on government not be sated by these meaty -- and undeniably satisfying -- bones. They must stay on guard and keep pressing for information that serves the public interest. If there's a legit reason why this report has not come out (i.e. national security or such), officials who have already promised its release owe at least that much of an explanation. But that doesn't mean the watchdogs can, or should, stand down."
Not only is the Pentagon violating the spirit of Holder's declaration and Barack Obama's repeated promises to run the most transparent administration in history, the Pentagon may be violating the law. "Actually, since there are multiple FOIA requests, the agency is now required under the 1996 amendments to FOIA to post the report online," says Blum, of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. "They'll still have to redact classified and other protected information," but the rest of the report should be posted.