The Gitmo Clusterf***
Detainee abuse at Guantanamo continues to shame America
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has finally admitted the obvious. Many of the detainees at Guantanamo are innocent:
Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting on Tuesday, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a "mosaic" of intelligence.
"It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance," Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather "sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified."
In his posting for The Washington Note blog, Wilkerson wrote that "U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released."
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney fought efforts to address the situation, Wilkerson said, because "to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership."
How could this have happened? Apparently, the incompetence that marked the early stages of our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan extended to the taking of prisoners:
Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, said vetting on the battlefield during the early stages of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was incompetent with no meaningful attempt to discriminate "who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation."
Wilkerson told the AP in a telephone interview that many detainees "clearly had no connection to al-Qaida and the Taliban and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pakistanis turned many over for $5,000 a head."
Some 800 men have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and 240 remain. Wilkerson said two dozen are terrorists, including confessed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody in September 2006.
To summarize, only about 3% of those who have been held at Guantanamo (and only 10% of those still being held) are terrorists. And most of the information that was coerced from the innocent detainees was probably false and counterproductive.
This is no minor crime. Remember that Bush and his cronies wanted to hold these men (and boys) without charge for the duration of the war on terror. In other words, Bush wanted to lock up hundreds of innocent men for life, just to avoid trials that would demonstrate that many had been abused and most were innocent.
As one might expect, many of those in the Department of Defense who are responsible for this sorry state of affairs have been pushing back. The most recent attempt to deflect attention from their crimes came in the form of a report which alleged that 62 former Gitmo detainees later "returned to the battlefield" to fight American troops. Predictably, the report was quickly debunked.
It's time for the Obama administration to release or charge all detainees in American custody. Obama seems to be on the right track so far, announcing plans to release more detainees from Guantanamo and continuing a program, initiated by the Bush administration, to release detainees held in Iraq. But that doesn't go nearly far enough. If the US is to stand once again for justice, then the Obama administration has to initiate an aggressive investigation to find out who was responsible for imprisoning innocent men for years at a time, who gave the orders to torture the detainees, and who tried to cover up these crimes.
Just last week, terrorists in Afghanistan assassinated a former detainee who had been released when it was determined that he was not a terrorist. Jawed Ahmad, 23, had worked as a journalist for Canadian media outlets and as a translator for American military forces, which is probably the reason he was killed.
Meanwhile, the glorious democratic government that the US is propping up in Kabul sentenced a journalism student to 20 years in prison for the crime of blasphemy. Parwez Kambakhsh had asked questions about women's rights during class. Earlier, Kambakhsh had been sentenced to death, but Afghanistan's Supreme Court decided that the lesser sentence was more appropriate. Kambakhsh was not represented by a lawyer during his trial.
I wonder whether the Afghan justice system was modeled after Bush's detainee policy, or if Bush modeled his detainee policy after Afghanistan's justice system.
(cross posted at appletree)