Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ex-Bush official confirms innocents at Gitmo

If it wasn't obvious by now, it should be: most of the people rounded up and jailed without charge at Guantanamo Bay were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Retired Army colonel and former chief of staff to the then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, told The Associated Press last Thursday that many of the detainees were innocent men, and that there was no meaningful attempt by US forces to distinguish actual terrorists from civilians.

Not only were they unable to separate civilians from fighters, but they had no desire to. Wilkerson revealed that he learned from military commanders that they had determined early on that the men were innocent, but decided to keep them imprisoned regardless: "It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance." [Emphasis added.]

Wilkerson wrote, "U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released." Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney prevented the situation from being addressed, because "to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership."

Wilkerson also confirmed that many detainees had no connection to either the Taliban or to al-Qaida, and had been turned in for the $5,000 per head reward money.

Of the 800-odd prisoners at Guantanamo, of which 240 remain, Wilkerson claimed that two dozen are actual terrorists. (That's a ratio of over 32 innocents per terrorist.) He also revealed that the US government couldn't try them even if they wanted to, "because we tortured them and didn't keep an evidence trail."

More here.

This is a good time to remember that while President Obama has promised to close Guantanamo Bay, he has so far refused to do the same for the even more secret Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Not only has Obama refused to close Bagram, or open it to oversight, or at least to trials, but there are plans to increase the number of people disappeared into the secret prison.

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