The New York Times and the Guardian have obtained 759 classified military documents that provide new details about the men held at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba as well as evidence against the 172 men who are still detained there. Wikileaks released the documents, which date from February 2002 to January 2009 and were prepared under the Bush administration (though the New York Times says that it did not receive the documents from Wikileaks). The dossiers, as the New York Times says, “provide a deeper look at the frightening, if flawed, intelligence that has persuaded the Obama administration, too, that the prison cannot readily be closed.”
The secret documents, which were also made available to the Washington Post and other new outlets, contain details about all but 20 prisoners. According to the files, many of the 172 remaining prisoners at Guantánamo would pose a “high risk” of threat to the US if released “without adequate rehabilitation and supervision.”
But the documents also show that as many as 600 of those who have been freed or transferred to other governments were also classified as “high risk.” The New York Times describes one such detainee, 24-year-old Afghan Said Mohammed Alam Shah. Having convinced interrogators that the Taliban had conscripted him as a driver, he was sent back to Afghanistan in 2004 where he revealed himself to be a Pakistan-born militant, Abdullah Mehsud, and “began plotting mayhem, including an attack on Pakistan’s interior minister that killed 31 people and a suicide bomb in 2007. Osama Bin Laden hailed him as a martyr in 2007.
The Guardian says that the documents
…reveal how, alongside the so-called “worst of the worst”, many prisoners were flown to the Guantánamo cages and held captive for years on the flimsiest grounds, or on the basis of lurid confessions extracted by maltreatment.
…The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or enemy fighters, than on extracting intelligence. Among inmates who proved harmless were an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim.
…Almost 100 of the inmates who passed through Guantánamo are listed by their captors as having had depressive or psychotic illnesses. Many went on hunger strike or attempted suicide.
David Leigh, the Guardian‘s investigations editor, says that the files “expose official lies.”
The New York Times notes both the extensive limitation of the files, as well as their detail:
Much of the information in the documents is impossible to verify. The documents were prepared by intelligence and military officials operating at first in the haze of war, then, as the years passed, in a prison under international criticism. In some cases, judges have rejected the government’s allegations, because confessions were made during coercive interrogation or other sources were not credible.
Yet for all the limitations of the files, they still offer an extraordinary look inside a prison that has long been known for its secrecy and for a struggle between the military that runs it — using constant surveillance, forced removal from cells and other tools to exert control — and detainees who often fought back with the limited tools available to them: hunger strikes, threats of retribution and hoarded contraband ranging from a metal screw to leftover food.
A Pentagon spokesperson said of the leaked documents:
“Naturally we would prefer that no legitimately classified information be released into the public domain, as by definition it can be expected to cause damage to US national security. The situation with the Guantánamo detention facility is exceptionally complex and releasing any records will further complicate ongoing actions.”
No new detainees have been transferred to Guantánamo since 2007. The result is that Guantánamo seems “increasingly frozen in time, with detainees locked into their roles at the receding moment of their capture,” as interrogators continue to question them about details that are further and further in the past.
CNN — which was not one of the news organizations that received the leaked files — notes that, earlier this month, the Obama administration has said that it will hold military trials at Guantánamo for the suspected conspirators of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, a decision that will “delay indefinitely plans to close the detention facility.” The Guardian puts the matter more bluntly:
Obama’s inability to shut Guantánamo has been one of the White House’s most internationally embarrassing policy failures. The files offer an insight into why the administration has been unable to transfer many of the 172 existing prisoners from the island prison where they remain outside the protection of the US courts or the prisoner-of-war provisions of the Geneva conventions.
What the documents reveal, the New York Times underscores, is that the US has made hundreds of men prisoners for years without trial on the basis of “a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past and what they might do in the future” — an assessment that calls for a reevaluation of what is going on at Guantánamo, before the years drag on even more.
Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy (see the story behind the image). This version, obtained from Vanityfair, is digitally edited, following the photo credit at the source by Ron Sachs/CNP/Corbis [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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