Gitmo Case Files - A Tragedy Of Errors

The Washington Post today reports that clearing up Bush's Gitmo mess is complicated by the fact that case files on detainees there are incomplete, d

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The Washington Post today reports that clearing up Bush's Gitmo mess is complicated by the fact that case files on detainees there are incomplete, disorganised and in many instances don't exist at all. One "senior official" from the Bush administration says that's not true and Obama's people "backpedaling and trying to buy time" by blaming its predecessor. The senior former official also admitted that "he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself."

That anonymous, secondhand, self-exoneration of the Bush administration is apparently good enough for the those who have always been glad to march in step with the Fourth Branch. Boston Herald editor and Pajamas media columnist Jules Crittenden believes it, for one, and launches into an apologia for the Bush administration involving a claim that any and all confusion is entirely due to intelligence agencies being unwilling to share with each other. But Hilzoy brings us an actual named eyewitness: LTC Darrel Vandeveld was lead prosecutor against a detainee, Mohammed Jawad, until he resigned last September. The following is from his statement in support of Jawad's habeas petition.

"7. It is important to understand that the "case files" compiled at OMC-P or developed by CITF are nothing like the investigation and case files assembled by civilian police agencies and prosecution offices, which typically follow a standardized format, include initial reports of investigation, subsequent reports compiled by investigators, and the like. Similarly, neither OMC-P nor CITF maintained any central repository for case files, any method for cataloguing and storing physical evidence, or any other system for assembling a potential case into a readily intelligible format that is the sine qua non of a successful prosecution. While no experienced prosecutor, much less one who had performed his or her duties in the fog of war, would expect that potential war crimes would be presented, at least initially, in "tidy little packages," at the time I inherited the Jawad case, Mr. Jawad had been in U.S. custody for approximately five years. It seemed reasonable to expect at the very least that after such a lengthy period of time, all available evidence would have been collected, catalogued, systemized, and evaluated thoroughly -- particularly since the suspect had been imprisoned throughout the entire time the case should have been undergoing preparation.

8. Instead, to the shock of my professional sensibilities, I discovered that the evidence, such as it was, remained scattered throughout an incomprehensible labyrinth of databases primarily under the control of CITF, or strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks vacated by prosecutors who had departed the Commissions for other assignments. I further discovered that most physical evidence that had been collected had either disappeared or had been stored in locations that no one with any tenure at, or institutional knowledge of, the Commissions could identify with any degree of specificity or certainty. The state of disarray was so extensive that I later learned, as described below, that crucial physical evidence and other documents relevant to both the prosecution and the defense had been tossed into a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten. Although it took me a number of months -- so extensive was the lack of any discernable organization, and so difficult was it for me to accept that the US military could have failed so miserably in six years of effort -- I began to entertain my first, developing doubts about the propriety of attempting to prosecute Mr. Jawad without any assurance that through the exercise of due diligence I could collect and organize the evidence in a manner that would meet our common professional obligations."

It seems obvious that the Bush administration as a whole simply didn't care - it expected prosecutors in what it believed to be a tame tribunal process to hand down convictions anyway and was more than a little surprised when many military lawyers refused to be complicit in the scam.

Crittenden also mentions the "61 detainees who returned to terror" stuff which has been debunked too. It's twelve at most - all released by political decisions made by Bush appointees, quite possibly including the "senior former official" Crittenden trusts so much as to believe his second-hand excuses. Every single one was released because the Bush administration's malfeasance meant charges wouldn't stick, were entirely false or were undermined by illegal methods such as torture and false confessions. That will be true of any other detainees released too - which would be simply sad, if it weren't so very tragic that some will go on to kill innocents. If only the Bush administration's legal hacks had considered that earlier...or indeed at all.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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