By Pratap Chatterjee
WASHINGTON, Apr 28, 2011
Was Adel Hamlily an agent for MI6, the British secret services, and simultaneously a "facilitator, courier, kidnapper, and assassin for al-Qaida"? Was there a secret al Qaeda cell in Bremen that even the German government knew nothing about? And could it be possible that an 11-year-old Saudi villager was leading a terrorist cell in London?
Earlier this week, Wikileaks released memos from the U.S. military officials in charge of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on 759 out of the 779 alleged "terrorists" that have been held at the maximum security facility since the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. At the time that they were captured, General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, "These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 (aircraft) to bring it down."
But experts who have trawled through the new files say that the documents show that the U.S. military jumped to some very dubious conclusions. The Wikileaks documents also show that the U.S. military were duped by some of the prisoners. Worst of all the Wikileaks files prove that hundreds of innocent men were imprisoned.
"Some fool of a military officer threw the kitchen sink into the 2008 assessment of Hamlily, in an effort to prove to his superiors that this was a dangerous terrorist," writes Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of Reprieve, a British charity, who has represented 128 of the 779 men who were held in Guantanamo Bay.
"It is important to understand that each of the 759 WikiLeaks Guantánamo 'assessments' are comprised of the worst gossip that a military officer can come up with," added Smith in a commentary written for the Guardian newspaper in Britain. "(W)e have proved 64 percent of the habeas petitioners innocent - and that comes after more than 500 prisoners were released by the military before the courts intervened. In other words, the error rate is astonishing."
Andrew Worthington, author of "The Guantanamo Files" who has compiled the most definitive annotated list of all Guantanamo detainees, says that the files "reveal accounts of incompetence familiar to those who have studied Guantanamo closely, with innocent men detained by mistake - or because the U.S. was offering substantial bounties to its allies for al Qaeda or Taliban suspects."
The files show that military interrogators themselves concluded that an estimated 150 men, almost one in five, had no connection to any terrorist activity whatsoever. Another 380, roughly half of those held in Guantanamo, were believed to be low-level militants.
Take the case of Mukhibullo Abdukarimovich Umarov, born in Alisurkhan, Tajikistan, and Mazharudin, a Tajik who was born in Pajpai, Pakistan. Both men were arrested while studying at a small library in Karachi, Pakistan on May 19, 2002.
Both Umarov and Mazharudin have one-page files; the two files are almost identical. They state: "It was undetermined as to why the detainee was transferred to GTMO (Guantanamo). Since his arrival at GTMO it has been determined that this detainee is not an al-Qaida or Taliban member. There, after reviewing all relevant and reasonably available information, it is GTMO's assessment that this detainee is not an enemy combatant."
The Wikileaks documents also show that U.S. military officials believed that Murat Kurnaz, a Turk who was born in Germany, was a member of "Bremen Group, the Bremen Cell, the Bremen Terrorist Recruitment Cell and the Bremen Jihadist Network."
But Der Spiegel, a respected German weekly, notes that, "Germany's domestic intelligence agency, which monitors Islamist radicals, nor any other German investigative authorities have ever heard of a Bremen al-Qaida cell."
"The documents verify ignorance, incompetence and wanton behavior," Bernhard Docke, a German lawyer who represented Kurnaz, told Der Spiegel. "Guantanamo appears to be an autistic and Kafka-esque machine of suspicion in which vague conjecture, simply through the passage of time and constant repetition, becomes supposedly solid fact."
Indeed Joyce Hens Green, a U.S. judge who reviewed Kurnaz's case, later concluded that the military had "no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with al-Qaida or making any specific threat against the U.S." or "any evidence that Kurnaz harbored any individual who has in engaged in, aided, abetted or conspired to commit acts of terrorism against the United States."
The Wikileaks files also reveal that the military interrogators were willing to believe almost anything. Yasim Basardah of Shabwah, Yemen - a former thief, drug addict and an acknowledged member of Al Qaeda who fought against the U.S. in the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001 - provided testimony against 123 of his fellow prisoners.
"The current U.S. government knowledge base of the personnel and activities within Tora Bora would not have been possible without the co-operation and truthfulness of this detainee (Basardah) whose reporting has directly supported US tactical operations in Afghanistan," wrote one military analyst. "It seems many JTF-GTMO detainees are willing to reveal self-incriminating information to him."
For example, Basardah told his interrogators that fellow inmate Yousef Abkir Salih al-Qarani was a leader of a "London, United Kingdom-based al-Qaida cell" in 1998. Yet a more detailed investigation by lawyers showed that al-Qarani was born in 1987 and had not left his family village in Saudi Arabia, making it unlikely that he was leading a terrorist group in the UK at the age of 11.
But Basardah was rewarded well for this information at the time, according to an investigation by the Washington Post, which revealed that he "received a CD player, chewing tobacco, coffee, library books" as well as McDonald's apple pies and a video game console.
Every single one of these detainees has since been released. Umarov and Mazharudin were held for two years before being released by the George W. Bush administration in 2004 while Kurnaz was let go in 2006. Basardah and Hamlily spent eight years each at Guantanamo and were released by the Barack Obama administration in 2010.
However, 171 of the original 779 prisoners remain in Guantanamo today. Of this number 89 have been cleared for release but are being held for security reasons - either because they are from Yemen, which is still considered to be a major Al Qaeda base, or because the detainees face imprisonment in their countries of origin if they return.
Other Guantanamo prisoners are stuck in a judicial limbo. In March, President Barack Obama signed an executive order extending their imprisonment indefinitely without any charges - even though the government remains unsure of who some of the men are, let alone what, if anything, they did.
One affected individual is Omar Hamzayavich Abdulayev. His file, released by WikiLeaks, merely notes: "Detainee's identity remains uncertain."
Glenn Greenwald, a U.S. constitutional lawyer and blogger, says that these new Wikileaks documents "conclusively underscore the evils" of the Obama executive order: "The idea of trusting the government to imprison people for life based on secret, untested evidence never reviewed by a court should repel any decent or minimally rational person, but these newly released files demonstrate how warped is this indefinite detention policy specifically."