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Gitmo Prisoner Case Files A Mess

The Washington Post today reports on yet another challenge for the Obama administration: finding the documents that will reveal just who all those Guantanamo Bay prisoners really are, and what, if anything, they’ve done wrong.

In their piece, reporters Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn report that the Bush administration’s files on these prisoners, some picked up six or seven years ago, are a complete mess.

A senior Obama administration official said that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch” — presumably sitting in file cabinets somewhere among the records of the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, CIA and maybe even the FBI.

Although President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within one year, the difficulty of tracking down information about the 245 detainees still imprisoned there is sure to pose a major obstacle.

According to The Post, “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.”

None of this will come as a surprise to lawyers defending prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who’ve been seeking access to these files for years, with little or no success. In fact, as The Post points out, even the Justice Department lawyers fighting the detainees’ habeas corpus petitions in federal court have begged the judges for more time to respond to the petitions because, as the lawyers said in one recent filing, “the record . . . is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.”

As I’ve written before, the Bush administration strongly opposed several court orders to turn over information expeditiously in the habeas cases. Now, it seems, we know why.

In one brief opposing a judge’s order, the Justice Department wrote that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.”

I guess that because the Bush administration had insisted for years that it wouldn’t have to — President Bush claimed he could hold all those “enemy combatants” in prison indefinitely — providing some order to their case files wasn’t exactly a priority.

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