A new trove of documents released Sunday night by WikiLeaks profiles more than 700 prisoners who passed through the Guantanamo Bay detention camp between 2002 and 2009. The documents demonstrate that, even in the eyes of the US military/intelligence apparatus, there was no evidence connecting the vast majority of the prisoners to any form of terrorism, let alone terrorist threats against the United States and US citizens.
The documents consist largely of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs), short summaries of the alleged evidence against individual detainees, as well as accounts of their physical and mental health, how they came into US custody, their value as intelligence sources and their eventual disposition, if any. Along with the DABs on 704 prisoners -- out of 779 men believed to have been imprisoned at Guantanamo for any length of time -- there are documents providing guidelines for interrogators and other procedures at the US-run prison camp in Cuba.
The documents require careful review, but certain preliminary conclusions can be drawn immediately from the digests which have appeared in a dozen newspapers and magazines, some of which are collaborating with WikiLeaks and others which are openly hostile to the whistle-blower web site. There is also a useful summary posted on WikiLeaks itself.
Few of the DABs contain any detail on the interrogation techniques practiced by US torturers at CIA "black prisons," before the victims arrived at Guantanamo, or at Guantanamo itself. But there are several references to torture, without using that word, perpetrated by US allies on a contract basis. Thus, Australian prisoner Mamdouh Habib is described as having undergone "severe duress" at an Egyptian prison before he was sent to Guantanamo. During those interrogations, he made the absurd claim to having personally trained in martial arts six of the 19 terrorists who perpetrated the September 11, 2001 attacks.
While the top officials of the Bush administration repeatedly described the Guantanamo Bay prisoners as "the worst of the worst," the most hardened Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists who deserved the most severe treatment, the description of the prisoners in the DABs is far different.
Of the nearly 800 prisoners, some 150 were regarded as clearly innocent, even by the loose standards applied by the US counterterrorism apparatus. Many of these prisoners were held for months, even years, after US interrogators had concluded they had no connection to terrorism. At least 100 prisoners were diagnosed as suffering from psychiatric disorders, including psychosis, depression and bipolarity.
Another 380 were considered low-level employees and foot soldiers, including many Taliban conscripts. Since the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for seven years, anyone who worked for the government or the military was thereby "linked" to the Taliban in this way, creating a vast pool of potential detainees.
Ultimately, 204 of the 223 Afghan citizens detained at Guantanamo were repatriated, and nearly all of those were released from custody as soon as they arrived home. Half of the Afghan detainees, and most of the Pakistanis, are believed to have been "sold" to the US in return for bounties collected by Afghan militia warlords and Pakistani police officials.
All but 14 of the 135 Saudi nationals detained at Guantanamo, the second largest group of prisoners, have been repatriated. Nearly all the Yemeni nationals, the third largest group of detainees, have been cleared of any involvement in terrorism, but many remain at Guantanamo because the US stooge regime in Yemen has been reluctant to take them.
The Obama administration has kept Guantanamo open for more than two years, despite Obama's election campaign promise to close it and the executive order he signed as soon as he took office. Some 172 prisoners remain, including 40 that even the US intelligence agencies acknowledge are innocent, most of them Yemenis. Only about 40 are expected to face trial, mainly by military commission, while the largest group consists of those to be detained indefinitely but never tried, either because the evidence against them is based on torture and cannot be used in any judicial proceeding or because the evidence is insufficient to sustain any prosecution.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the detentions, as demonstrated in the DABs, is the sheer arbitrariness of the long-term incarcerations of hundreds of men. The detained range in age (at detention) from a 14-year-old who was thought to know some local Taliban leaders (a description that would apply to most youth in the east and south of Afghanistan), to an 89-year-old suffering from senile dementia, cancer and other serious illnesses.
Two former prisoners of the Taliban were detained because they could describe the group's interrogation techniques. Two former draftees were asked for information on Taliban conscription techniques. A taxi driver in the Khost/Kabul area was interrogated about possible Taliban escape routes. A peasant farmer was questioned about the topography of his native district, including possible Al Qaeda infiltration routes.
The flimsiness of the charges against most of the Guantanamo prisoners is underscored by the frequent use of allegations produced by torture or generated from a handful of prisoners who cooperated with their interrogators by making outlandish and unsupported charges against many of their fellow detainees.
As many as 135 prisoners have notations in their DABs about testimony against them by a single Yemeni prisoner, Yasim Basardah, whose evidence was ultimately dismissed by several judges. By August 2008, Basardah had become so discredited that Navy Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, the prison camp commander, warned, "Any information provided should be adequately verified through other sources before being utilized." Basardah was released from Guantanamo in 2009 and reportedly lives in Spain.
Another 100 dossiers feature the inventions of Abu Zubaydah, once described by US officials as the third-ranking figure in Al Qaeda, now believed to be a low-level personal aide or car pool driver. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times and responded with increasingly farfetched accounts of an Al Qaeda plan to develop a hydrogen bomb or a radioactive "dirty bomb."
One British resident, Libyan immigrant Omar Deghayes, was described on one page of his DAB as having been arrested in Pakistan in late 2001, and on the following page as "arrested in Spain in November 2001 for extremist activities and links to an Al Qaida cell based in Spain." According to the account in the Guardian, there was no attempt to reconcile the two diametrically opposed reports. Instead, both were cited as reasons for detaining Deghayes at Guantanamo: "The former is given as a reason for sending him to Guanta'namo and the latter as a reason for keeping him there," the newspaper wrote.