The Special Forces didn’t have the manpower, the training nor the inclination to deal with the problem of assessing whether captives were enemy combatants or simply unlucky civilians who fell into the hands of local US allies, Wilkerson said, noting:
“We relied upon Afghans, such as General [Abdul Rashid] Dostum’s forces, and upon Pakistanis, to hand over prisoners whom they had apprehended, or who had been turned over to them for bounties, sometimes as much as $5,000 per head.
“Such practices meant that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantánamo detainees had been turned in to US forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money. I recall conversations with serving military officers at the time, who told me that many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives.”
Despite the uncertainties surrounding the captures, Wilkerson said the Bush administration viewed the detainees as not only potential sources of information about Al Qaeda but for evidence “on contacts between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s intelligence and secret police forces in Iraq” that could help pave the way for the planned invasion in 2003.
The combination of the uncertainty about whether detainees actually knew anything and the harshness of their treatment set the stage for desperate captives to provide bad intelligence – saying whatever they thought their interrogators wanted to hear – which would then serve the Bush administration’s Iraq War aims.
That proved to be the case with alleged al-Qaeda captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who responded to threats of torture by claiming to know about an operational link between Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda. It was exactly the kind of information that the Bush administration had been seeking and was later cited to justify invading Iraq.
But it turned out to be wrong. In early 2004, al-Libi recanted his statements, claiming he had lied because of both actual and anticipated abuse, including threats that he would be sent to an intelligence service where he expected to be tortured.
Hyping the Danger
Senior Bush officials also exaggerated their certainty about the danger posed by Guantanamo detainees.
“If you think of the people down there, these are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield,” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said in 2002, “they’re terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers…would-be suicide bombers.” He called them “the worst of the worst.”
Also in 2002, Vice President Cheney said Guantanamo prisoners “are the worst of a very bad lot” and “devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.”
Wilkerson filed his declaration in support of a lawsuit by Adel Hassan Hamad, a 52-year-old former Guantanamo detainee who has sued Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Joints Chief of Staff Richard Myers, and a slew of other Bush administration officials.
Hamad alleges that he was arrested in his apartment in Pakistan in July 2002, rendered to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for five months, where he says he was tortured, and then transferred to Guantanamo where he allegedly endured more torture at the hands of US military personnel.
“Mr. Hamad was not given notice of the basis for his detention until more than two years after first being detained, when a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) was convened in November 2004,” according to the federal lawsuit filed in Seattle last week. “Not until March 2005, nearly three full years after initially being detained, was Mr. Hamad officially labeled an ‘enemy combatant’ by the flawed CSRT process.
“However, this determination drew a rare dissenting opinion that acknowledged his enemy combatant status determination was unwarranted and as such, would have ‘unconscionable results.’ The basis for Mr. Hamad’s enemy combatant determination was simply because of his association as an employee of two organizations for whom he had done humanitarian and charity work (one of which he had left years before), and nothing more.
“In fact, a second CSRT was ordered for Mr. Hamad in November of 2007, one month before he was ultimately released to the Sudan. This was unusual, and indicates that the government recognized that the initial CSRT determination of Mr. Hamad was not accurate.”
The lawsuit cites a redacted copy of Hamad’s clearance decision saying that the Pentagon had cleared him for release in November 2005, though he was not freed from Guantanamo until December 2007, more than two years later.
Wilkerson said he was not personally familiar with Hamad’s detention, but rather was addressing the broader detainee issues that the Bush administration faced after 9/11.
“With respect to the assertions by Mr. Hamad that he was wrongfully seized and detained, it became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantánamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said he “made a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred because knowledge that I served in an Administration that tortured and abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the record clear on what occurred.”
He added, “I am also extremely concerned that the Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes. I am willing to testify in person regarding the content of this declaration, should that be necessary.”
This post was originally published by Truthout.
Photo from Walt Jabsco via flickr
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