To mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison to house “war on terror” detainees captured after 9/11, Truthout will republish a handful of exclusive reports by Jason Leopold about the facility.
A version of this report was originally published on Truthout on April 8, 2010.
The Bush administration deceived the American people about the certain danger posed by Guantanamo Bay detainees – the “worst of the worst” as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them – when many were simply innocent bystanders, according to a former top State Department official.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld knew that many detainees had done nothing wrong but still kept them prisoner for political or PR reasons.
In a nine-page sworn declaration filed with a lawsuit by former Guantanamo detainee Adel Hassan Hamad, Wilkerson said Cheney, in particular, pursued a cynical strategy regarding the detainees in which “the ends justified the means” and assumed that “innocent people languishing in Guantanamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror.”
Wilkerson said he also learned during discussions with Powell that “President Bush was involved in all of the Guantanamo decision making” and that Cheney had mastered the art of manipulating his boss.
“My own view is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so,” Wilkerson said. “Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell called the President’s ‘cowboy instincts,’ Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President’s acquiescence.”
Wilkerson said Powell was drawn into the Guantanamo discussions because he was under pressure from foreign governments about their citizens who were believed to have been wrongfully detained.
During one meeting, Wilkerson said he learned that Pierre Prosper, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes and the point person on negotiating transfer of detainees to other countries, “would discuss the difficulty he encountered in dealing with the Department of Defense, and specifically Donald Rumsfeld, who just refused to let detainees go.”
Wilkerson came to conclude that “at least part of the problem was that it was politically impossible to release them [because] if they were released to another country, even an ally such as the United Kingdom, the leadership of the Defense Department would be left without any plausible explanation to the American people, whether the released detainee was subsequently found to be innocent by the receiving country, or whether the detainee was truly a terrorist and, upon release were it to then occur, would return to the war against the US.
“Another concern was that the detention efforts at Guantánamo would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were. Such results were not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DOD.”
Left to Languish
So, Wilkerson said many of the original 742 detainees, who had been shipped to Guantanamo by late August 2002, were left to languish, though it was clear that many of them had been picked up in Afghanistan or another country with little due process and often because their local captors earned a $5,000-per-head bounty.
“The majority of them had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review,” Wilkerson said. “A separate but related problem was that often absolutely no evidence relating to the detainee was turned over, so there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place. …
“It was clear to me that, as I learned about how the majority of the Guantánamo prisoners had been detained, the initial group of 742 detainees had not been detained under the processes I was used to as a military officer.
“It was also becoming more and more clear that many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military. If there were any evidence, the chain protecting it had been completely ignored.”
Wilkerson blamed the “incompetent battlefield vetting” on the insufficient regular US Army troops sent to Afghanistan in the early days of the conflict. The Bush administration had decided to rely on a small number of US Special Operations Forces working with elements of the Afghan Northern Alliance.
Photo from Walt Jabsco via flickr
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