Congress, White House spar over Guantanamo records

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 13, 2011 6:03 PM
Congress, White House spar over Guantanamo records

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is caught in a standoff with Congress over records documenting the release of suspected militants from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, Cuba.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has approved an intelligence authorization bill requiring the administration to turn over diplomatic cables and other material documenting contacts between U.S. and foreign governments who agreed to accept released Guantanamo detainees for resettlement.

But the White House is threatening a presidential veto of any bill including the Guantanamo provisions. In a message sent to Congress last week, it said disclosing such information to Congress "would have a significant adverse impact" on foreign governments' willingness to deal candidly with Washington.

The Senate bill's provisions, which originated with Republican senators but were backed in a secret vote by a committee Democrat, would require the Director of National Intelligence to turn over documentation which risks political embarrassment for the U.S. administration.

The bill requires the DNI to provide the intelligence committees with State Department cables and other documents outlining what the U.S. government has been telling foreign governments about security risks or problems individual detainees would pose if released from custody and resettled outside the United States.

It also requires that the committees be given copies of records documenting "assurances" from foreign governments regarding how the detainees would be monitored.

Congressional officials said that in order to be able to assess the prudence and care with which the Obama administration has been releasing detainees, it is essential for Congress to review this documentation in detail.


In December, the DNI released statistics showing that one in four of the 598 detainees released from Guantanamo are either suspected or confirmed to have engaged in "terrorist or insurgent activities" after their release.

"I believe this provision must be part of any final authorization bill, unless the administration moves quickly to work with the committee on a reasonable alternative accommodation," Saxby Chambliss, Republican vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, said on Tuesday.

But in its message to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget said that the relevant documents contain "deliberative commentary and sensitive diplomatic discussions and negotiations."

The State Department refused to send the material to Capitol Hill, the message suggested, "because of the need to protect diplomatic communications in conducting effective foreign relations."

OMB and DNI representatives declined to comment further.

The Obama administration has already faced criticism for releasing detainees from Guantanamo who subsequently returned to battlefields as frontline fighters against U.S. or allied forces in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Congressional sources say that behind the scenes, administration officials have been trying to negotiate a deal in which some risk assessment materials would be sent to Congress, but foreign government "assurances" would still be withheld.

The House Intelligence Committee did not include the Guantanamo provision in similar legislation later passed by the House of Representatives. However, senators are still holding out for greater disclosure.

Some congressional officials also note that some of the information the Senate committee has requested is already publicly available in classified Guantanamo dossiers made public by WikiLeaks.

But congressional and executive branch security officials have forbid congressional investigators from calling up this material on their classified government computer networks.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)