There are about 245 prisoners still at America's most famous offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Of those 245, the Bush administration had brought charges against 21 of them. That's it. Now that President Obama has ordered a review of all of the cases at Guantanamo we're starting to learn the extent of the legal mess that the Bush Administration has left behind there.
The Washington Post reports today that, while reviewing prisoners' cases "...incoming legal and national security officials ... discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them."
And how could that happen?
"Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner.... the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority."
So we have incomplete information on the prisoners still in U.S. custody. But, conveniently enough for Republicans still arguing to keep the prison open, the Pentagon now claims to have very specific information on what's happened to the prisoners who are now out of U.S. custody.
Michael Isikoff reports in Newsweek that the Department of Defense is planning to release new details on the 62 people it claims have returned to the "battlefield." Even though, according to Professor Mark Denbaux of Seton Hall, the Pentagon doesn't even track prisoners released from Guantanamo - at least they don't in any way that makes sense.
Profesor Denbeaux's research shows that the Pentagon's lists accuse people of having returned to the battlefield on the grounds that they appeared in documentaries, or wrote op-eds for the New York Times. But those facts have not stopped Guantanamo's defenders from saying that if the prison is closed dangerous terrorists will be loosed back onto the battlefield or into your backyard. It was such fear that allowed Guantanamo Bay to exist - and now, could that same fear could keep it - or something very much like it - open?