The inside story of Guantánamo, via WikiLeaks

The classified intelligence assessments released by WikiLeaks show a litany of errors, misjudgments, and abuses at the Guantánamo Bay prison.

What happened

A new trove of WikiLeaks documents on the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay this week revealed a damning litany of errors, misjudgments, and abuses since the Bush administration created the detention center for suspected terrorists in 2002. More than 150 innocent civilians, including teenage boys and illiterate Afghan shepherds and farmers, were detained for years after being deemed of little or no risk to the U.S., the 704 classified intelligence assessments obtained by WikiLeaks say, while hundreds of known terrorists were set free by mistake. The material also provided a grim picture of how some of the 779 detainees were interrogated and brutalized. One document revealed that the suspected “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11 attacks, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated, and forced to urinate on himself. Some prisoners had their heads forced into toilets, while others were used as “human sponges” to wipe the floor. Many were beaten unconscious by interrogators.

The documents say the testimony of just eight detainees—some deemed “unreliable” and given to exaggerations designed to make themselves look “more important”—were used to justify the continued imprisonment of 255 inmates. At the same time, the documents say, about 25 percent of the 600 released captives have rejoined al Qaida or other militant groups.

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What the editorials said

The truly shocking thing about these documents, said the London Guardian, is the “desperate lack of precision” shown by intelligence officers in determining which prisoners were actually terrorists. The intelligence assessments use the word “possibly” 387 times and “unknown” 188 times. Clearly, Guantánamo “was and still is a dumping ground for all sorts of people,” where vengeance, not justice, was the underlying goal.

Because Gitmo failed as a system of justice, said The New York Times, it became a “festering sore on this country’s global reputation.” These leaked documents have finally revealed the full scope of the “legal and moral disaster that President George W. Bush created there.” That problem is now President Obama’s; only by giving each of the 172 remaining detainees a fair, credible, and transparent legal hearing will Obama start to rebuild America’s credibility as a nation of laws. In truth, said The Seattle Times, the only way to atone for Guantánamo Bay is to shut it down and try suspects in U.S. courts. We haven’t sent any new prisoners there since 2007, and keeping the remaining ones “locked up and out of sight” is immoral and un-American.

What the columnists said

Guantánamo Bay was absolutely necessary, said former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo in, and these documents prove it. The reports show that the U.S. gleaned “enormously valuable intelligence” from its detainees that stopped plots and saved American lives. Interrogators were told about al Qaida proposals to smuggle nuclear and biological weapons into the U.S., and even to cut the cables holding up the Brooklyn Bridge. This was information that we “could not have got anywhere else.”

That’s what advocates of torture always say, said Andrew Sullivan in In reality, “the ticking time bomb” justification used by Yoo and other Bush officials was a slippery slope, in which torture became “the rule,” not a rare exception. Hundreds of detainees, many of them foot soldiers or wholly innocent, “were destroyed—physically, psychologically, mentally—over a period of years.” Despite this proof of our national shame, said Glenn Greenwald in, dozens of detainees are still being held without charges. President Obama, knowing they can’t be prosecuted because the evidence against them was largely extracted through torture, has simply ordered them held indefinitely, with no hope of a trial. That “should repel any decent or minimally rational person.”

Let’s remember that many of these intelligence reports go back years, said Robert Chesney in Today, Guantánamo is no longer a “lawless place with Kafkaesque procedures and detention at government whim.” All detainees now have the right to challenge their detention by habeas corpus in front of a federal judge. “Many have been released as a result.” It’s not perfect, of course, but it is a start.

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