Secrecy: Wikileaks

Wikileaks Strikes Again--This Time at Guantanamo

By Benjamin Wittes
Sunday, April 24, 2011, 9:19 PM

I can't fathom right now who should be most upset--the government or the detainee bar--by this story in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A trove of more than 700 classified military documents provides new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there.

Military intelligence officials, in assessments of detainees written between February 2002 and January 2009, evaluated their histories and provided glimpses of the tensions between captors and captives. What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or amilitary tribunal.

The documents meticulously record the detainees’ “pocket litter” when they were captured: a bus ticket to Kabul, a fake passport and forged student ID, a restaurant receipt, even a poem. They list the prisoners’ illnesses — hepatitis, gout, tuberculosis, depression. They note their serial interrogations, enumerating — even after six or more years of relentless questioning — remaining “areas of potential exploitation.” They describe inmates’ infractions — punching guards, tearing apart shower shoes, shouting across cellblocks. And, as analysts try to bolster the case for continued incarceration, they record years of detainees’ comments about one another.

Should it most upset the government, for whom the story represents yet another devastating failure to keep important secrets? Or should it most upset detainee counsel, for whom this trove means the public release of huge amounts of unsubstantiated speculation about clients who have not been charged and against whom it is far easier to write down disparaging information in intelligence reports than it is to prove such allegations in court. For both intelligence and civil liberties reasons, there are very good reasons a lot of this material has not been made public.

Just to be clear: I'm not criticizing the Times here. It's a responsible and serious story based on obviously newsworthy information. But it is information that should not have been leaked--particularly not this indiscriminately. I have spent a great deal of time over the years trying to shed light on the Guantanamo population. This sort of wholesale document dump is exactly the wrong way to do it.