The Hidden Horrors of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

27.4.11

WikiLeaks’ latest revelations — secret military files on almost all of the 779 prisoners held in the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — are already causing a stir, and for good reason, as they resuscitate a story that appears to have been forgotten in the last few years: how, in their rush to prove themselves tough and vengeful in response to the 9/11 attacks, the most senior officials in the Bush administration not only discarded international laws and treaties including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, but also threw out safeguards designed to protect innocent people from being wrongly imprisoned in wartime.

Some of the key discoveries in the Guantánamo files are the documents on the 201 prisoners released between 2002 and summer 2004, which cover new ground, as the US military has never publicly released any of this information before. For the other 578 prisoners, information has at least been revealed through the release of the government’s allegations against the prisoners, and the transcripts of the tribunals and review boards used to assess their significance, which were released in 2006 (with follow-ups in the years since), but for these 201 prisoners, many of the stories are being related for the very first time. These are mostly dispiriting revelations about how children as young as 14 and old men in their 80s were rounded up and sent to Guantánamo, joining farmers, taxi drivers and unwilling Taliban recruits — hordes of the innocent or the insignificant, whose stories help to confirm the folly of Guantánamo.

Just as significant, however, are the stories of the majority of the other prisoners — the nearly 400 others released, and most of the 172 still held. Understanding their stories generally requires more effort, as the allegations marshalled against them seem to prove what a threat they are — until, that is, the sources of these allegations are investigated, and are revealed, time and again, as very dubious indeed.

Although JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, responsible for creating these files, has done a good job of creating the illusion of coherent intelligence dossiers, an illusion is all it is. On close inspection, the files are full of lies and distortions, with certain figures appearing over and over again. They include “high-value detainees” like Abu Zubaydah, waterboarded 83 times and held for four and a half years in secret CIA prisons, and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, tortured in Egypt until he falsely confessed that there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003), who was finally sent back to Libya to be murdered.

There are also others, held only in Guantánamo, who are known as notoriously unreliable informants, and who, whether through the use of torture, coercion, or bribery (the promise of better living conditions) have repeatedly told lies about their fellow prisoners. These have been seen through, generally by some official figures at Guantánamo, and also by judges in the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions, who have recognized their baleful influence, and have often moved to dismiss their testimony, damaging or even eviscerating the government’s cases.

There are dangerous men in Guantánamo, of course — some, if not all of the 14 ‘high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who arrived in Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, some of the ten others transferred to Guantánamo from secret prisons in September 2004, plus a handful of others. Essentially, these are the 36 men recommended for trials by the Obama administration’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which spent the whole of 2009 analysing the prisoners’ cases.

As for the rest of the 172 men still held, 47 of whom are being held indefinitely without charge or trial by President Obama on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, even though no evidence exists that can be used in court, these documents reveal how the distortions engendered by Guantánamo continue to erode all hope of a rational settlement to the vexed question of when Guantánamo will actually close.

When innocent people are labelled as “low risk” detainees, and foot soldiers are labelled as “medium risk” or “high risk,” as they are in these official documents, the proper outcome — that prisoners should either be charged or released, and the abomination that is Guantánamo should be closed as soon as possible — is lost in a miasma of misplaced fear.

Politically, it appears that President Obama has decided that Guantánamo is too toxic to touch. That is a disgrace, as it shows him to be a man lacking in firm principles, after all his fine talk about the importance of justice and the law, when he was a Senator, and it is also a tragedy for America.

I won’t hold my breath hoping for enlightenment, but these documents released by WikiLeaks deserve to be read widely, and to be acted upon decisively by Americans who care about justice and the rule of law, because, with Guantánamo still open, they reveal the unjustifiable triumph, from beyond the electoral grave, of the Bush adminstration, whose actions, whatever their supposed justification, took the country to a wretched and disturbing place that still needs to be abandoned and repudiated as a thoroughly unacceptable aberration from the principles on which the United States was founded.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

29 Responses

  1. billy jack says...

    “There are dangerous men in Guantánamo, of course — some, if not all of the 14 ‘high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who arrived in Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006,”
    How do we actually know KSM is dangerous?? After all, the so-called evidence against him and some others deemed “dangerous”, was produced by the Same Lawless administration, who had no respect for truth or justice, and fabricated evidence as a policy. – I say the whole damned place is tainted and EVERY case should be closely reviewed with no fore-gone conclusions that Any detainee is Guilty. This nightmare gitmo and the war on a noun(terror) needs to be put behind us, if America is to be considered a Nation of Justice and Laws.

  2. Kabuli says...

    Barely back from the bush I discovered your Wikileaks bombshell. What a job, and my undying admiration for your committment and boundless energy!
    I started -of course- with Shaker Aamer’s file, a truly depressing one in many ways.

    Many years ago someone fed LSD to spiders, which obviously had a nefarious influence on their capacity to construct proper webs.
    The ‘evidence’ in Shakers file reminds me of the pictures of the messy tangles produced by those hallucinating spiders, instead of proper, professional, spiderwebs.
    Those who produced the messy tangles in Shaker’s file (and I expect in all the others as well), did not even need LSD to go berserk.
    Their capacity of intelligent judgment apparently was so weak to start with, that fear and hatred were enough to make them loose their senses.
    I now realize that earlier reports about the evidence against Guantanamo prisoners generally being a mosaic of circumstantial evidence, in fact were gross understatements.

    I gave up trying to make any sense of this mess -if you can, I admire you even more- and just looked at a few dates.
    Wasn’t Shaker cleared for release in 2007? Then how can a document dated November 1st, 2007 label him as a a top risk in all categories, while ‘his most recent interrogation session occurred on 26 March 2007′?
    (And his ‘enemy combatant status was reassessed on 3 December 2004, after which he remained an enemy combatant’).

    And a Rear Admiral (whatever that might be, but it sounds impressive) is not ashamed to sign such a document with his name?

  3. Brian says...

    “There are dangerous men in Guantánamo, of course — some, if not all of the 14 ‘high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks…”

    How does this author, mention KSM, without acknowledging the FACT that he was waterboarded over 180 times, for his “confession” of being the “mastermind”.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Billy,
    You’re right of course not to wish to prejudge anyone. The assumption I’ve always worked from regarding KSM and Ramzi bin al-Shibh is an interview they conducted with an al-Jazeera journalist before their capture, when they claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. However, I’d prefer, nearly 10 years after 9/11, to be able to move on from that, and to have trials if there is evidence. The torture was a disgrace, and the delay is a disgrace as well.

    Brian, I hope this answers your question as well. There’s a link to the Al-Jazeera interview here:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/02/12/six-in-guantanamo-charged-with-911-murders-why-now-and-what-about-the-torture/

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    How very wonderful to hear from you, Kabuli, and thank you very much for your palpable and eloquent indignation, and also for the spider on LSD analogy. I remember that research!
    As for Shaker, i am so glad that you have cut through all of the nonsense in such a straightforward manner. My prescription for reading the files of most of the the other prisoners would be “Repeat as necessary.”
    So was Shaker cleared back in 2007 as we all heard? I thought he was, and that his lawyers had received a letter telling them that this was the case, but perhaps the military changed their mind. Nothing underhand would surprise me anymore …

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    On Common Dreams, thepuffin wrote:

    Torture is now a point of “discussion.”

    High risk, low risk,medium risk, national security risk….and, oh, my, SHOCKING revelations about the US TORTURE PROGRAM–

    The only thing that matters is that the US violates international law and becomes a nation–HAS BECOME a nation, utterly bereft of any moral mooring–

    We are not, in any sense of the word, benefiting humanity.

    The US tortures, not only suspected terrorists, but wives and children of suspected terrorists–sometimes ON FILM so the torture can be replayed for the husband/father/mother…nothing like seeing your shrieking child with a mop handle shoved into his rectum by patriotic soldiers to soften you up for “intelligence.”

    Salon has ceased linking to its own story, but: http://narus.info/?p=587 will get you started.

    It’s as bad as can possibly be imagined.

    We rape children.

    Nothing else we say or do until ALL such behavior is stopped and the perps punished matters in the slightest.

    But tell that to the poverty-stricken, the homeless, and the middle class terrified that either circuses or bread might be interrupted for a moment–

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Demonstorm wrote:

    Thank you. Yes, it is absolutely appalling how horrifically evil this country has become. What is even more appalling, to me, is the utter apathy and indifference of most Americans to this fact. Poll after poll on this subject shows that over 60% of Americans are quite fine with the U.S. torturing people, just so long as they are brown-skinned foreigners who are undoubtedly “threatening our way of life” by their very existence. Over 60% is a MAJORITY of Americans, FYI.

    Once we become a full-blown fascist dictatorship in plain view (right now we are a fascist dictatorship, but still hiding behind the facade of “democracy”), the number of Americans who will be “Good Germans” will absolutely shock you. Or, maybe it won’t…..

    Leave while you can. It only goes downhill from here.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    joecool9 wrote:

    Has become? This is the US from day one. Genocide, Slavery, KKK, and just way too damn many things to list. This didn’t just start after 9/11. talk to any Nam vet you can and listen to what they did to the people there. Grenades thrown in huts for the hell of it, rapings, slaughter of villages…..
    The US had morality only in our heads. In our white heads.
    Sorry to let you know.
    But the US is just an evil empire overthrowing other countries and installing brutal dictators for decades.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    GollyGee wrote:

    “…Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks…”

    Huh? — I thought Cheney did that. ????

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Erroll wrote:

    The answer to your question lies in the word which precedes mastermind. Until an actual and honest investigation takes place concerning the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 then KSM can never be considered the true brains behind those attacks.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    dubet wrote:

    I would venture this sentence is the sole reason for the article…

    not that I agree with the sentence, as I agree with you…

    to reinforce your position, this single sentence subconsciously reinforces, within the mind of the reader, the official story, which is the whole point of the article…

    it accepts, at face value, that 911 was planned and executed by foreigners, which changes the debate around subsequent ‘United States’ action from right vs. wrong, to one of implementation…

    a common tactic…

    I place apostrophes around ‘United States’ to indicate that I mean those currently manipulating, and those masquerading as, the United States government…

    that there is no actual United States government…by the people, for the people…

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    James Edwards wrote:

    Earnest or otherwise this does not matter any more.
    The reality is so much a done deal that stories like this are merely grist to the media mill, which means we can doubt the earnest and begin to suspect otherwise.
    The reality is that USA is in the hands of demented crooks and has been for a long time.
    So enough of the spectacular extremes now. The messy and malignant US mediocrity must be dealt with.
    Which is that on aggregate the USA is a failed cultural entity.
    Change must and will come. The longer the USA dallies the more extremely painful it will be for everyone but most excessively for US citizens. Along with all others they will be the ones dying as the cause.
    The end is now clear. If there is a winner it cannot be the USA. Not only does it not deserve to but if it does win the earth will not survive for the US understanding of winning will kill Earth.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Tom Joad wrote:

    Worthington says he will not be holding his breath for enlightenment on the Gitmo horror. Nor should anyone else. Unfortunately, Amerika is way past treading the slippery slope of authoritarianism; the nation has slid into that dark space where civil liberties are only available to the ruling elite.

    Only radical action can turn the tide of what awaits the rest of us: chronic food and energy shortages, shredded social programs, sweatshop working conditions and harsh penalties for those who step out of line.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    polycarpe wrote:

    “in their rush to prove themselves tough and vengeful in response to the 9/11 attacks”

    Seriously, it is the bullsh*t in the passing phrases as instanced above that try a person’s soul.

    How can one be vengeful for attacks which one brought about?

    Any talk of our government’s “response” to 9/11 falls nicely into the propagandistic trap set for all “reasonable” people: that our government was reacting to an event and not a aiding and abetting a false flag attack on American soil.

    As Derrick Jensen has stated, the trick of propaganda is to slip premises past the public so that before one even begins to argue/discuss the “big lie” has already been confirmed and bolstered.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jim Glover wrote:

    So who in the government knew who was responsible for secretly planting the “demolition bombs” and equipment in the towers and building 7.

    Where do you find a demolition crew who would do that and not leak any info?

    If the planes were just a cover to blame foreigners, it was brilliant up until one finds out that no plane hit building 7 and the other five buildings that were destroyed by the tower debris when they collapsed and it was also brilliant until the Truthers claim without any proof that a missile hit the pentagon as if you could hide a missile hitting the pentagon.

    For bumbling the cover like that you would think they would have goofed the demolition with one mistake out of the million they would have been risking in such an implausible scheme.

    But this theory takes all the bite out of the truth that they knew this was coming and they knew about the Saudi, Pakistan and and other CIA connections of the plot.
    Since they knew it was coming they had no reason to get themselves blamed for it by jumping in and if they did jump in it would only tip off the hijackers.

    And of course with an attack on the towers and the pentagon and one planned at the Capital and White House that didn’t work, the towers didn’t have to fall for war to happen even though the fires could not be put out… the air attack was plenty enough to invade and begin this 9/11 Moslem War for profit of the Racket.

    There are no secrets according to Einstein but this one according to who?.

    Who set it up, who all knew and who has kept it a secret?

    Got proof?

    And what if you are wrong and your story is convenient cover for the fact that they let it happen.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Saturnalia wrote:

    In the article the author mentions the idea that the prisoners are the most dangerous persons in Gitmo. I beg to differ. Obviously the guards and their employers are the most dangerous.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Maplefudge wrote:

    Bin Laden won.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Randy G wrote:

    “Politically, it appears that President Obama has decided that Guantánamo is too toxic to touch. That is a disgrace, as it shows him to be a man lacking in firm principles, after all his fine talk about the importance of justice and the law, when he was a Senator, and it is also a tragedy for America.”

    Yes, indeed, Obama is quite the talker. I am not sure about him lacking “firm principles” as he seems to lack any principles whatsoever.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Digging (it’s a wonderful resource)

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. And thanks also to all the people who’ve shared this story. More soon!

  21. The Hidden Horrors of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files | Common Dreams « 2012 Indy Info says...

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  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote (in response to 20):

    We all hope so!, thanks very much, Andy!

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