2011-04-25 New York Times, NPR Collude with US Government on Gitmo Files Coverage

ImageA statement from the Pentagon was published just after 9 pm ET on April 24th, no more than an hour or two after the New York Times had posted their package covering the Gitmo Files they had not obtained from WikiLeaks. The statement was posted on NPR and the Times website. Yet, again, it seems this is an instance of complete collusion between the press and government.

Michael Calderone reports "representatives from NPR and the Times visited the White House and spoke with Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell and members of Joint Task Force Guantanamo." And, "The news organizations agreed to some redactions requested by government officials but not all of them."

Recall, in February, it was found out that the Times had met with the State Department prior to their release of the US State Embassy Cables. Marcy Wheeler over at Firedoglake highlighted NYT’s close cooperation with the State Department:

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd. Representatives from the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon gathered around a conference table. Others, who never identified themselves, lined the walls. A solitary note-taker tapped away on a computer.

The meeting was off the record, but it is fair to say the mood was tense. Scott Shane, one reporter who participated in the meeting, described “an undertone of suppressed outrage and frustration.”

Subsequent meetings, which soon gave way to daily conference calls, were more businesslike. Before each discussion, our Washington bureau sent over a batch of specific cables that we intended to use in the coming days. They were circulated to regional specialists, who funneled their reactions to a small group at State, who came to our daily conversations with a list of priorities and arguments to back them up. We relayed the government’s concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets.

Once again, the Timesopted to subvert its duty and be for the State instead of fully owning its role as a member of the Fourth Estate. It chose to cover for power instead of covering power. [Unfortunately, on matters of national security and war, this is what typically happens.]

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell’s statement is a well-prepared statement. It does not simply condemn the release of the files and then make a general note about the US and how it is committed to upholding human rights and so on and so forth. The statement clearly outlines that a Guantanamo Task Force was established in January 2009 and suggests that the material published may be outdated because the Task Force has made assessments of detainees and those reports were not released.

The statement also claims, “Both the previous and the current Administrations have made every effort to act with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantanamo.” That may be mostly true, as the US State Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks indicated Guantanamo detainees had been used as “bargaining chips.” American diplomats bargained with countries to help empty the prison by resettling detainees. They told Slovenia if it wanted to get a meeting with President Barack Obama. They offered Kiribati incentives “worth millions of dollars to take Chinese Muslim detainees.” Diplomats suggested to Belgium that by taking detainees it could be a “low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”

If the process of resettling has not worked as planned, perhaps the manner in which the US went about trying to resettle detainees is partly to blame for the inconvenience these terror suspects have caused the supreme power. Or, perhaps, the fact that, as Amy Davidson of the New Yorker writes, the US reasoning for detaining individuals does "not always really involve a belief that a prisoner is dangerous to us or has committed some crime; sometimes (and this is more debased) we mostly think we might find him useful"—Perhaps, that has something to do with the complications being experienced.

The Pentagon statement notes the “previous Administration transferred 537 detainees; to date, the current Administration has transferred 67” Former President George W. Bush occupied the position of US President of the United States for eight years. That means on average Bush released 67 detainees each year of his presidency. But, actually, that’s a poor calculation because the first detainee wasn’t released from Guantanamo until 2002. So, in reality, Bush released an average of 89 detainees each year he was president.

How many detainees has Obama released each year thus far? About 34 detainees each year. And, unlike Bush, President Obama was actually committed to closing Guantanamo.

The statement continues, “Both Administrations have made the protection of American citizens the top priority and we are concerned that the disclosure of these documents could be damaging to those efforts.”

The “security” of American citizens is of so much concern that detainees are a different class of people in the United States. They are de-human and not allowed civilian trials in the United States. They are “enemy combatants” and not prisoners of war and thus are not able to claim protections under the Geneva Conventions.

Finally, the statement concludes, “We will continue to work with allies and partners around the world to mitigate threats to the U.S. and other countries and to work toward the ultimate closure of the Guantanamo detention facility, consistent with good security practices and our values as a nation.”

But, just how hard does the Pentagon and the Obama Administration plan to work to close Guantanamo? In 2009, the Senate canceled $80 million to fund the relocation of Guantanamo detainees. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye and Republican Sen. James Inhofe slid a provision into a war appropriations bill that made it so “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this act may be used to transfer, release, or incarcerate any individual who was detained as of May 19, 2009, at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to or within the United States."

In March of this year, President Obama announced he would restart military commissions for Guantanamo detainees and no longer push to secure civilian trials for the detainees in the United States. He also announced “a new process for continuing to hold those detainees not charged or convicted but deemed too dangerous to be free.”

Despite the fact that he had pledged to close Guantanamo by January 2010 days after his inauguration, he defended military commissions saying they “ensure our security and our values are strengthened.” But, these announcements virtually ensured that Guantanamo would continue to stay open.

Where are these detainees going to go when not being tried? And, if they are not being given civilian trials, what makes anyone think they will be resettled in civilian prisons? They would have to be held at military prisons. And, what is the likelihood that they would be resettled in prisons on the US mainland if there is no political will to support trying detainees in cities like New York?

The Obama Administration currently has no public campaign to close the Guantanamo prison beyond the words that are printed in this statement. It is not advocating vigorously for the closure. It is much harder for it to defend the prison’s closure than it is to defend it staying fully operational.

The Pentagon is not suggesting the release of this information will endanger lives. The Times and other news organizations are already spinning the reports as information that shows what alleged terrorists were up to on September 11 and after before they were seized or captured. Thus, the release of the information could, if spun correctly by media, help the government defend continuing the "war on terror." It could obscure revelations on the flawed process of assessing whether a detainee is dangerous or not, whether a detainee has information that can be used to capture leaders of al Qaeda, whether a detainee deserved to be transferred to Guantanamo, etc.

The disclosure of information will hurt the government not because this information was "obtained illegally" but because, like many releases from WikiLeaks, it shows us the truth of what has been going on with detainees right down to specific details about each detainee in the prison.

Contrary to Morrell’s suggestion, the released documents are more likely to help spur efforts to close Guantanamo than damage the efforts. The release will force Americans to once again ask themselves why the military prison in Cuba needs to remain open. It will give human rights organizations another opportunity to force the political class in Washington to confront the prison, one the Bush Administration crafted legal justification to help prevent officials from being prosecuted for illegal or inhumane conduct.

It may not have the impact of getting the prison closed, but the transparency or disclosure is still valuable to the world. If this doesn’t catalyze a second burst of will from America to close the prison, one thing is certain: It will reveal yet another inhuman and callous American reality.