Hot Docs: Iraq During the Obama Administration, Who Is at Guantánamo?

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Iraq in the Obama Administration: A panel of experts advises President-elect Barack Obama to "pay urgent attention to Iraq," especially during his first year in office. A new paper from the U.S. Institute of Peace notes that Obama has spoken in favor of withdrawing from Iraq and lays out the options he faces. A "smooth transition" between the Bush and Obama administrations is "critical," they emphasize, and the United States should remain involved with Iraqi interests: "Ignoring or hastily abandoning Iraq could risk a collapse with catastrophic humanitarian and political consequences that the new administration would not be able to ignore." Whatever the eventual time frame, the experts agree that the United States' approach should be twofold: Provide more support to civilian issues such as elections and assist displaced peoples, and undertake "a more intensive political, diplomatic and capacity building effort, one that respects Iraqi sovereignty and provides the support and encouragement Iraq needs to complete its transition to peaceful means of settling its many internal conflicts."

Analyzing Who's at Guantnamo: An breakdown of who is in custody at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility "clearly contradicts the more extreme claims of both opponents and defenders of American detention policy," concludes a new report. Many detainees have admitted ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations but "the public record simply will not support statements broadly identifying the Guantánamo population as composed chiefly of dangerous terrorists," says a study by the Brookings Institution. Seeking to "identify and describe empirically who is at Guantánamo today, what the government alleges about them, and what they claim about their own affiliations and conduct," Brookings studied the detainee population based on analysis of the information that has been revealed through habeas petitions or press reports. The report identifies "a relatively small group of the true 'worst of the worst.' " Of the 248 detainees in custody as of this week, 27 are identified as al Qaeda leaders and 99 as "lower-level al Qaeda operatives." The study's authors say that their work highlights the need for more information to be available about the prisoners: "Much debate has proceeded as though the public record were adequate to form a sensible detainee policy. It is not." Policymakers and advocates simply need more information to know which approaches would be appropriate, they conclude.

Endangering Endangered Species: A former official of the Fish and Wildlife Service improperly influenced decisions as to which animals were listed as endangered and which caused "potential harm" to the listed species, even as the official's actions harmed the morale and reputation of the department. A report by the Interior Department's inspector general looked at 20 decisions that were made during the tenure of former deputy assistant secretary Julie MacDonald and found that 13 were "potentially jeopardized" by her influence. They refer to her "zeal to advance her agenda," which led to improper "attempts to interfere with the science," and her bullying of department employees, which some staffers referred to as "getting MacDonalded." In addition, the report reveals that "hundreds of thousands of dollars" of taxpayer money was spent to reissue or defend rulings that MacDonald had influenced. The report was released by the office of Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who requested the investigation in his role as the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. MacDonald resigned in 2007 after an earlier investigation revealed that she had engaged in "unethical and illegal activities" during her time at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Checking on the Clean Water Act: A recent investigation found that numerous violations of the Clean Water Act occurred during the Bush administration. The investigation, headed by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, discovered that many Clean Water Act cases have been overlooked or put on hold. Almost 50 percent of the violations of the Clean Water Act that "have been detected but are not being addressed" pertain to oil spills. They believe the involvement of Congress is needed to "restore necessary Clean Water Act protections to our nation's waters."