Monday, December 28, 2009

Not long ago, Barack Obama famously pledged to run the “most transparent administration in history.” Yet while some Americans may be pleased to know that they can now access the White House visitors log online to see whether Jay-Z or Brad Pitt have stopped by lately, the Obama administration has been anything but transparent on the more pressing matter of transferring terror detainees from Guantanamo to the United States, specifically to New York and more recently to Illinois. In this, the president has been aided by his supporters in Congress, who, in helping him keep his ill-conceived promise to shutter Gitmo, have simultaneously enabled him to break his promise to “shine a light on the business conducted inside” the White House.

This complicity was recently made evident by the House Armed Services, Judiciary, Intelligence and Homeland Security committees. The Ranking Members on each of those committees had introduced Resolutions of Inquiry, a rarely-used legislative tool directing the executive branch to disclose information to Congress.

The resolutions respectively (1) required the Department of Defense to provide documentation mentioning the trial and detention of the Sept. 11 conspirators; (2) required the Department of Justice to provide documentation of its views on any additional rights that may be granted to Gitmo detainees if transferred to the U.S.; (3) directed the president to provide information on the transfer’s effects on foreign intelligence collection; and (4) directed the Department of Homeland Security to provide documentation on any DHS planning and coordination with any state or locality that has received or will receive Gitmo detainees, including New York City.

The results? Three of the four committees - Armed Services, Intelligence and Homeland Security - passed watered down versions of the resolutions on nearly uniform party-line votes, drastically narrowing the scope of documents to be provided by the administration. The Judiciary Committee resolution was voted down altogether along party lines.

These votes are just part of the pattern of withholding information on Gitmo detainees from the American public, including those individuals representing the state and communities where the world’s most dangerous terrorists will be held and/or put on trial. The House Intelligence Committee also recently refused to consider Ranking Member Pete Hoekstra’s request that the Committee provide members of the Illinois congressional delegation - including the Rep. Don Manzullo, who represents Thomson, Ill., where roughly 100 of the detainees are slated to be transferred - redacted classified information on the detainees.

This development is of course reminiscent of last summer’s stonewalling of Mr. Hoekstra. At that time, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had refused Mr. Hoekstra’s request to lead a delegation of state and local officials from Michigan to Gitmo, even as the state prison in Standish, Mich., was under serious consideration as a transfer destination. Mr. Gates, in turning down Mr. Hoekstra’s request, stated that once a decision was made on where to transfer Gitmo detainees, only then would state and local officials of the affected locale be brought into the conversation.

Indeed, this administration’s definition of consulting the locals was brought to light in the aftermath of Mr. Obama’s decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the other Sept. 11 conspirators in civilian courts in New York City. Not long after the announcement was made, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly confirmed that neither he nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg were brought into the discussion. As Mr. Kelly noted: “That decision was made. We were informed.”

Mr. Manzullo, Mr. Hoekstra, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly shouldn’t feel too alone. Apparently, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. failed to consult even with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the matter of bringing KSM and company to New York City for trial, according to testimony Ms. Napolitano gave before the United States Senate. Sadly, Mr. Obama’s apparent willingness to keep even stakeholder Cabinet members out of the loop is matched by his Capitol Hill allies’ clear complicity in hiding Gitmo-related documents.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that these congressional allies, who are as eager as the president to transfer terrorists to America, would want to minimize the release of information that would undermine the case for doing so. Yet a president and Congress so focused on public attitudes may want to take note of recently released polling: 51 percent of voters in Illinois oppose bringing Gitmo detainees to their state, while a whopping 64 percent of Americans oppose closing Gitmo and bringing detainees to the United States.

One wonders what the polls might say these days about this president’s sweeping pledges on transparency, and about those in Congress who are allowing him to keep the American people in the dark.

Ben Lerner is director of policy operations for the Center for Security Policy.

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