It’s Eight Years Since WikiLeaks Released the Hugely Important Guantánamo Files, Leaked by Chelsea Manning, On Which I Worked as a Media Partner


The logo for WikiLeaks’ release of the Guantánamo Files on April 25, 2011.

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Exactly eight years ago, on April 25, 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners” (posted on my website as WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies), for WikiLeaks, to accompany the first of 765 formerly classified military files on the Guantánamo prisoners — the Guantánamo Files — that the organization began releasing publicly that day. The files primarily revealed the extent to which the supposed evidence at Guantánamo largely consisted of statements made by unreliable witnesses, who told lies about their fellow prisoners, either because they were tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of better living conditions.

I was working with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the files, and I had written the introductory article linked to above in just a few hours of turbo-charged activity after midnight on April 25, 2011, as I had received notification from WikiLeaks that the files had also been leaked to the Guardian and the New York Times, who would be publishing them imminently.

WikiLeaks had previously become well-known — notorious, even — through its release, in April 2010, of “Collateral Murder“, a “classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff,” and its further releases, throughout 2010, with the Guardian and the New York Times and other newspapers, of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US documents — war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and US diplomatic cables from around the world. 

Like the Guantánamo Files, all of these documents had been leaked to them by Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning), a lowly intelligence analyst based in Iraq who had become profoundly disillusioned with the way that the US operated, although it should be noted that, on Guantánamo, WikiLeaks had previously managed, via a different source, to secure and publish manuals from the prison detailing its “Standard Operating Procedures,” which were released in November 2007, the year after the organization was founded, and which I discussed here.

To provide some background to my involvement with WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of the Guantánamo Files (and please do check out all the media outlets, myself included, who have worked with WikiLeaks over the years), I had been contacted by the organization at the end of March 2011, after I had just been discharged from hospital, where consultants managed to save two of my toes that had gone black after I developed a rare blood disease that announced itself via a blood clot that cut off the blood to two of my toes. 

Painfully, because the worst-affected toe was still gangrenous (although it subsequently healed), I made my way to Norfolk, where Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, had been given shelter by Vaughan Smith, the founder of the Frontline Club, a journalists’ club in Paddington, following a brief imprisonment related to rape claims made by two women in Sweden. Assange was on bail, and WikiLeaks’ makeshift HQ, in a grand house in the middle of nowhere, looked exactly like you would imagine a bunch of techno-nerds would look like if they were dropped into the plot of a Hollywood thriller. 

I didn’t develop any kind of bond with Assange, but I found him bright and attentive, and, I suspected, slightly chastened by his experience of prison. Mostly, however, I was fully supportive of the need for the Guantánamo Files to be released, and, after they were made available, via secretive measures, to myself and to all the other media outlets working with WikiLeaks on their release, and I subsequently began researching them, I was in no doubt about their importance, as I discussed in the article I linked to at the top of this article, and as I discussed in subsequent articles (some of which were posted on WikiLeaks’ website), including WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantanamo, WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files and WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo, and also in my million-word analysis of over half the files, which I undertook throughout the rest of 2011 and into 2012.

As a result, when we suddenly had to go public wth the files on April 25, 2011, I was able to brief the reporters on the significance of the files when we all met, by Victoria station, in the headquarters of the right-wing Daily Telegraph, the somewhat unlikely new British outlet for WikiLeaks, after both the Guardian and the New York Times had severed their relationship with him. 

At that meeting were representatives of all the other media outlets working on the release of the files — the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, El Pais, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso — and afterwards, when the Telegraph took us to lunch, I remember getting some insight into Assange’s frame of mind after the Telegraph‘s representatives, who were excited to have taken over from the Guardian as sponsors of the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, were trying to arrange how to get him there to speak, even though he had another appointment elsewhere on the day in question. They suggested that they could hire a helicopter for him, to which he replied that his lawyers had told him to avoid helicopters, because they were the easiest form of transport to sabotage.

Within a week of the files being published, the US government conveniently located and killed Osama bin Laden, an act of Wild West vengeance that both removed the possibility of him ever being interrogated (to finally, perhaps, learn the truth that the nobodies at Guantánamo hadn’t been able to reveal through torture and abuse, because they knew nothing), and also silenced any further discussion of the Guantánamo files. In fact, Republicans and the right-wing media then concocted a false narrative that it was torture at Guantánamo that had led to the US locating bin Laden when that was simply not true.    

Today’s anniversary is significant because Guantánamo is still open, and the files still reveal, to an unprecedented degree, the lies, extracted through torture and abuse, that form the sickeningly groundless basis under which 779 men — mostly not connected in any meaningful manner with either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban — were deprived of their liberty in an experimental and illegal prison in which they were held without charge or trial neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “illegal enemy combatants” — a role invented by the US post-9/11 — with no fundamental rights whatsoever as human beings, a situation that, alarmingly, is still fundamentally true for the 40 men still held.

Free Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning!

Today’s anniversary is also significant, of course, because both Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are currently imprisoned as the US tries to work out if it can prosecute Assange. 

The Justice Department under Donald Trump has revived a Grand Jury investigation of Assange, even though WikiLeaks contentiously released emails and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta during the 2016 US presidential election campaign, helping Trump to victory, and even though, as the Intercept revealed last year, Assange had expressed a preference for a Republican victory, explaining, essentially, that there would be better resistance from Democrats, liberals and the liberal media with Trump in charge, whereas, under Clinton, there would be inadequate opposition to the Democrats’ worst instincts, 

Despite having been imprisoned for seven years prior to and after her 2012-13 court-martial, at which she received a 35-year sentence that President Obama commuted just before he left office in January 2017, Chelsea Manning was imprisoned again, on March 8 this year, in the women’s wing of the federal detention center in Alexandria, Virginia, for contempt of court because she won’t cooperate with the Grand Jury investigation, and on Monday the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied her request for bail.

Julian Assange, meanwhile, is currently being held in London’s maximum-security Belmarsh prison, having — evidently at the request of the US — been thrown out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, where he had successfully sought asylum nearly seven years ago, under a more sympathetic Ecuadorian president, after breaching his bail.

From Belmarsh he is trying to find ways to fight his planned extradition to the US, although shamefully, since his imprisonment two weeks ago he has not yet been allowed to meet with his lawyers, who are only finally being allowed to meet with him tomorrow.

As we remember the publication of the Guantánamo files today, it remains hugely important that we also continue to call for Chelsea Manning to be freed, and for the British government to refuse to extradite Julian Assange to the US. As I explained after his arrest, in my article, Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It:

The arrest of Julian Assange ought to be of great concern to anyone who values the ability of the media, in Western countries that claim to respect the freedom of the press, to publish information about the wrongdoing of Western governments that they would rather keep hidden.

Those who leak information, like Chelsea Manning, need protection, and so do those in the media who make it publicly available; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as much as those who worked with them on the release of documents — the New York Times and the Guardian, for example

If the US succeeds in taking down Julian Assange, no journalists, no newspapers, no broadcasters will be safe, and we could, genuinely, see the end of press freedom, with all the ramifications that would have for our ability, in the West, to challenge what, otherwise, might well be an alarming and overbearing authoritarianism on the part of our governments.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Today is the eighth anniversary of WikiLeaks’ release of classified military files from Guantanamo, on which I worked as a media partner, which revealed the extent to which the supposed evidence at Guantanamo largely consists of statements made by unreliable witnesses, who told lies about their fellow prisoners, either because they were tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of better living conditions.

    I recall how I got involved, I reiterate the significance of the files, and I call for the release from custody, in the US and the UK, of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, both imprisoned in the last seven weeks as the US has re-opened a Grand Jury investigation into Assange, and is seeking his extradition from the UK.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    That’s an interesting revelation, a week after files released — poof — they finally find and dispose of their main culprit.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the timing was shocking, Tashi. I’m no conspiracy theorist, as you know, but I really did think that dark forces within the US pushed ahead with bin Laden’s killing to divert attention from the truth being revealed about Guantanamo.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Dexter Lance wrote:

    Am sharing, Andy. And, as always, thanks for all you do.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Laura!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrte:

    Another example of why Wikileaks is important. Please don’t be among those who join in on the smear campaign. Read this and weep real tears. (Thank you, almost every day, Andy.)

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your supportive words, Deborah!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:
    That’s true, Andy, thank you for your work!
    Here is a comment that completely coincides with my opinion – Laurie Davies:
    “Also, let’s be real… a country that granted Assange asylum and made him a citizen (also tried to make him a diplomatic representative) should NOT be recording Assange’s every move in his own home. The man had no access to the internet, phone calls, or visitors for 7 months last year.
    What could Ecuador possibly think justified recording him in his own home? They literally set the torturous stage to run him nuts, then flipped on the cameras hoping for some good footage that could save Moreno’s ugly face in this.
    And then look at the ‘oh so sinister’ footage that’s been released. Assange exercising and hydrating himself… quiet as mouse. Yeah.
    And a man, who hadn’t been outside in 7 years, skateboarded. Oh how horrific! Alert the media and bring in Big Brother right away!
    There is no legal or moral justification for recording Assange. Ecuador’s government vowed to protect him when he was granted asylum. Recording his every move in the privacy of his very tiny home is hardly “protection”. They not only assaulted his privacy. They attacked his humanity. It’s grotesque.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Aleksey!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Happy Anniversary ‘Mericuh

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    A US government crimes calendar would be good, Jan. I’m sure a crime could be found for every day of the year. And a UK version would be good too!

  12. Tom says...

    Please watch your steps as this plays out. That’s going to be one aspect of the US campaign to get Assange and anyone else who’s worked with him. Guilt by association.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. At present, the investigation is narrowly focused on Assange’s alleged efforts to secure a password, but as some commentators are warning, the list of charges could easily expand if he’s successfully extradited to the US. I’ll be watching carefully.

  14. Tom says...

    What US prosecutors are doing is hedging their indictment. Add a long list of charges, many of which will be thrown out by a judge. This will leave enough to justify getting the extradition approved.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Technically, Tom, the US doesn’t generally have to do much to justify an extradition. There have been changes since the US-UK extradition treaty was first set up in 2003, at the height of post-9/11 “terrorist” paranoia, was introduced, but it’s still not without its problems. Some explanation here by CNN:
    And here’s Politico on the political angles surrounding Assange’s alleged crimes:

  16. Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Andy Worthington, Pablo Ouziel, Janine Bandcroft May 2, 2019 - Gorilla Radio is dedicated to social justice, the environment, community, and providing a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media. says...

    […] week marked the eighth anniversary of the WikiLeaks release of ‘The Guantánamo Files‘. A lot has changed since their original airing, and a lot […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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