The Guantánamo Papers


The New York Times, Editorial – TRANSCEND Media Service

The internal documents from the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, published in The Times on Monday were a chilling reminder of the legal and moral disaster that President George W. Bush created there. They describe the chaos, lawlessness and incompetence in his administration’s system for deciding detainees’ guilt or innocence and assessing whether they would be a threat if released.

Innocent men were picked up on the basis of scant or nonexistent evidence and subjected to lengthy detention and often to abuse and torture. Some people were released who later acted against the United States. Inmates who committed suicide were regarded only as a public relations problem. There are seriously dangerous prisoners at Guantánamo who cannot be released but may never get a real trial because the evidence is so tainted.

The torture has stopped. The inmates’ cases have been reviewed. But the detention camp in Cuba remains a festering sore on this country’s global reputation. Hampered by ideologues and cowards in Congress, President Obama has made scant progress in healing it.

Evidence obtained from torture and the uncorroborated whispers of fellow prisoners fill the more than 700 classified documents obtained by The Times and other news organizations. Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi believed to have been an intended participant in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself. Yet claims Mr. Qahtani is said to have made about at least 16 prisoners are cited in their files with no mention of the coercion.

Some assessments relied on innuendo, gossip or information supplied by individuals whose motives were untrustworthy and whose information later proved false. Haji Jalil was captured in 2003 after an Afghan intelligence official said he had taken an “active part” in an ambush that killed American soldiers. He was sent home two years later, an inexcusable delay, after American officials determined that Mr. Jalil had been used to provide cover for the involvement of the intelligence official and others in the attack.

The Obama administration objected to release of the classified documents. The administration notes that the assessments were written between 2002 and early 2009 and that the task force established by Mr. Obama in January 2009 came to different conclusions about some of the remaining 172 prisoners. We accept that caution. But the administration is wrong to insist on secrecy. Inordinate resort to secrecy and resistance to testing evidence in fair and credible legal proceedings put the nation in this fix.

The administration should make its assessments of the remaining Guantánamo detainees public to the extent possible and free lawyers for detainees to fully communicate their clients’ side of the story.

The military commission trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and five other alleged Sept. 11 plotters should be pursued by the Defense Department using only evidence that would pass muster in federal court, and with maximum transparency.

The disaster at Guantánamo Bay is now Mr. Obama’s problem. He should not compound Mr. Bush’s mistakes in his efforts to correct them.

A version of this editorial appeared in print on April 26, 2011, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: The Guantánamo Papers: Newly released documents underscore the travesty of the Bush detention practices.

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