The Newest on the U.S. Dungeon at Guantanamo

The newest round of WikiLeaks revelations unearths troubling facts about the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Operating for more than nine years now, the prison camp was originally said to be holding “the worst of the worst”—terrorists of the same moral plane and dangerousness as those who committed the attacks of 9/11. The vast majority of the 775 who have been housed there have since been released. 172 remain.

One revelation from the leaks confirms the suspicion long held by many that very few of these people were in fact “the worst of the worst.” The Telegraph reports:

Only about 220 of the people detained are assessed by the Americans to be dangerous international terrorists. A further 380 people are lower-level foot-soldiers, either members of the Taliban or extremists who travelled to Afghanistan whose presence at the military facility is questionable.

At least a further 150 people are innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs and drivers who were rounded up or even sold to US forces and transferred across the world. In the top-secret documents, senior US commanders conclude that in dozens of cases there is “no reason recorded for transfer”.

Such totally innocent people include Naqibullah, a fourteen-year-old captured and likely gang raped by warlords, and held at Guantánamo without anything approaching a good reason for a full year. Another revelation confirms the understanding long held by civil libertarians that the standards of evidence at Guantánamo were beyond shoddy. McClatchy reports:

The allegations and observations of just eight detainees were used to help build cases against some 255 men at Guantanamo—roughly a third of all who passed through the prison. Yet the testimony of some of the eight was later questioned by Guantanamo analysts themselves, and the others were subjected to interrogation tactics that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and compromised the veracity of their information.

Some folks detained there have not been so “innocent.” If we define Taliban soldiers and leaders as “enemy combatants,” this is especially true, but it is an odd legal situation indeed when enemy soldiers are treated like criminal suspects but without the protections afforded to suspects, but also like enemy belligerents but without prisoner of war privileges. In any event, the military procedures that were supposedly more practical than the civil legal system in determining, by the government’s own terms, who is “innocent” and who is “guilty” has been an utter flop. The New York Times reports:

Said Mohammed Alam Shah, a 24-year-old Afghan who had lost a leg as a teenager, told interrogators at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that he had been conscripted by the Taliban as a driver before being detained in 2001. He had been caught, he said, as he tried to “rescue his younger brother from the Taliban.”

Military analysts believed him. Mr. Shah, who had been outfitted with a prosthetic leg by prison doctors, was “cooperative” and “has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the U.S. or its allies,” according to a sympathetic 2003 assessment. Its conclusion: “Detainee does not pose a future threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests.

So in 2004 Mr. Shah was sent back to Afghanistan—where he promptly revealed himself to be Abdullah Mehsud, a Pakistan-born militant, and began plotting mayhem. He recorded jihadist videos, organized a Taliban force to fight American troops, planned an attack on Pakistan’s interior minister that killed 31 people, oversaw the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers, and finally detonated a suicide bomb in 2007 as the Pakistani Army closed in. His martyrdom was hailed in an audio message by none other than Osama bin Laden.

Then there is the question of prisoner abuse. Whereas many Americans have outrageously argued that detainees at Guantánamo have been coddled, the horrific treatment of prisoners has long been difficult to dispute. Reports of the standard protocol of discipline at Guantánamo—the “Extreme Reaction Force”—whereby detainees are savagely beaten for the lightest of transgressions, should have alone put to rest any reasonable doubts that the prison camp conducts what would easily qualify as torture. Now a new study bolsters the claims by inmates that they were tortured and the abuse was ignored by Guantánamo doctors.

Of course, we are told that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were necessary for “intelligence.” Yet for years our leaders have told us U.S. foreign policy has acted on the assumption that Osama bin Laden fled Afghanistan into Pakistan. The leaked Guantánamo files indicate that he in fact escaped northeast deep into Afghanistan. At this point, he could probably be anywhere.

What’s the reaction of the Obama administration, which had promised in January 2009 to close the prison camp down by January 2010? The administration, in channeling the rhetoric of its predecessor, has essentially warned that transparency and disclosure are helping the terrorists.

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