On Sunday night, more than a half dozen major news organizations in the United States and Europe began publishing shocking new revelations from a long-rumored WikiLeaks trove of documents about prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, reports The Daily Telegraph (UK).
More than 790 classified military documents, which cover almost every inmate since 2002 and January 2009, provides new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there.
Al-Qaeda terrorists have threatened to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” on the West if Osama Bin Laden is caught or assassinated, according to the documents, which contain details the interrogations of more than 780 Guantanamo detainees.
However, the shocking human cost of obtaining this intelligence is also exposed with dozens of innocent people sent to Guantanamo – and hundreds of low-level foot-soldiers being held for years and probably tortured before being assessed as of little significance.
What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal.
The files detail the background to the capture of each of the 780 people who have passed through the Guantanamo facility in Cuba, their medical condition and the information they have provided during interrogations.
Only about 220 of the people detained are assessed by the Americans to be dangerous international terrorists. A further 380 people are lower-level foot-soldiers, either members of the Taliban or extremists who travelled to Afghanistan whose presence at the military facility is questionable.
At least a further 150 people are innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs and drivers who were rounded up or even sold to US forces and transferred across the world. In the top-secret documents, senior US commanders conclude that in dozens of cases there is “no reason recorded for transfer”.
Among the detainees was an 89-year-old Afghan villager, who suffered from dementia, but was transported to the camp to be interrogated about “suspicious phone numbers” found on him. A 14-year-old boy who had been a kidnap victim was also taken to Cuba for “his possible knowledge of Taliban local leaders”.
However, the documents are largely silent about the use of the harsh interrogation tactics at Guantanamo — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — that drew global condemnation.
The documents, released by WikiLeaks to the Guardian newspaper and the New York Times, also included advice for interrogators on how to spot signs of terrorism such as whether an inmate was wearing a cheap Casio watch from the 1980s.
The digital watch was said to be given to graduates of a bomb-making course in Afghanistan. Information in a secret report states: “Approximately one-third of JTF-GTMO detainees that were captured with these models of watches have known connections to explosives.”
President Barack Obama had promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay, which operates outside the U.S. courts and the Geneva Convention, by January 2010.
But the White House has struggled to relocate the 172 remaining prisoners who include “high risk” detainees, informers who would be in danger of reprisal attacks and even a group of Chinese Muslims from the Uighur community.
The Obama administration said: “Both administrations have made the protection of American citizens the top priority, and we are concerned that the disclosure of these documents could be damaging to those efforts.”
The new Guantánamo assessments seem unlikely to end the long-running debate about America’s most controversial prison. Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. [Header image via Flickr; via The Telegraph (UK), The Huff Post and NY Times]