President-elect Obama is reportedly going to order the closing of Gitmo as one of his very first acts in office. But itâs far from clear how quickly the coming administration can actually shutter the prisonâsome guess it will take the better part of a year. A key factor, of course, will lie in just who the 248 detainees being still held at Gitmo are and what exact the government believes theyâve done.
One of the handiestâand least-noticedâplaces for finding that information is the New York Timesâ "Guantanamo Bay Docket."
Launched quietly on November 3 (when some folks were busy focusing on other impending news), the searchable database has government documents on all of the prisoners the Pentagon has acknowledged have been held at Gitmo. 779 have been detained there since 2002; 248 remain there today.
For example, here are the details of the governmentâs case against alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. (KSM is just one of 16 high-value detainees still held at Gitmo. The Timesâ project has details on each one.)
The docket has about 16,000 pages overall, almost all from court hearings. You can search through all of the documents. For example, interested in seeing all the times "torture" has been mentioned at a hearing? Thereâs also a handy timeline.
We found the project so interesting that we decided to ring Margot Williams, the Timesâ database research editor, who has spearheaded the effort. Margot has been involved in breaking Gitmo stories for years. In fact, sheâs such a junkie, she said she put a recording of KSMâs confession on her cellphone.
"I donât know what compels me to do this, but for years Iâve been compiling lists of people in secret detention. So Iâve been in âlist modeâ for seven years," Williams told us.
What the Times did was combine the information Williams has been compiling and linked it up with the government documents on each detainee. "Wikipedia and a few other sites have posted some documents. But theyâre not searchable."
Williams warns that the documentsâeven the thousands of pages of themâdonât tell anything close to the full story. "This is only one side, itâs not presenting the defense teamsâ sides. Iâm hoping to get those documents in, but thatâs hard because most of them havenât been posted.
"Iâve read the 16,000 pages. Thatâs where I pull the information that goes in the database. I am a reader of documents. Thereâs no substitute for reading every line of every page. As they said on the 9/11 commission report, itâs about putting together the mosaic and seeing the patterns.
"In my mindâs eye, this is the form Iâd hope the government would make them available in rather than dumping them in unusable formats. Iâm glad weâve made the documents more useful for people to figure out for themselves who these [prisoners] are."