26 April 2011

The Guantánamo Wikileaks

In a must-read article entitled What the Guantanamo leaks won’t reveal in Al Jazeera, 25 April 2011, Darryl Li, a graduate of Yale Law School who has worked on legal defense of Guantánamo detainees, reflects on a few things that may not be explicit in the Guantánamo files released by WikiLeaks but are crucial to understanding their significance.

In the section on “threat assessments” Li begins:

If the initial document dump is any guide, most of what Wikileaks has obtained are “detainee assessments” that reveal more about the inner fantasy world of the US intelligence apparatus than who the detainees really are. The fantasy is not some elaborate conspiracy to fabricate stories from whole cloth; rather, it is the result of an intense desire for “useful” intelligence, coupled with an astounding lack of safeguards or quality control.


Although these assessments would be considered “analytical” rather than “raw” intelligence, one can see very little analysis in them at all. They cite intelligence reports without any discernible attempt to assess their veracity. They read as if someone searched for the detainee’s name in a giant database and then simply pasted together all the passages they could find. For these reasons, one of the worst things one could do is use these files as a baseline for assessing the culpability or dangerousness of their subjects. The “detainee assessments” should not feed the stale, speculative, and fearmongering debate over Guantánamo “recidivism”; they should end it.

In subsequent sections he deals with the impact of detainee torture and abuse, the farce of the prosecutions, the other prisons and the role of the client states, especially Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. Read Li’s piece in full here.

Li’s appraisal of the threat assessments resonates with my own. Having read the Recommendation to a Retain under DoD Control (DoD) for a Guantanamo Detainee relating to Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib (see here) and that relating to David Hicks (see here) I am singularly unimpressed by either their alleged intelligence value or the case they make for retaining someone in detention.

To take just one example relating to Habib, after acknowledging that a number of statements allegedly made to Egyptian interrogators were made under extreme duress, and all subsequently withdrawn, the writer of the assessments includes one of them (“lnformation was found on his home computer regarding poisoning rivers in the U.S.”) stated as fact in the summary of reasons why he should continue to be detained, probably the only paragraph a busy senior officer would read.

David Hicks was assessed as “a highly skilled and advanced combatant, as well as a valuable asset and possible leader for extremist organizations”, in spite of his never having succeeded in getting himself into a combat zone, and in spite of the assessment report adducing no evidence of his leadership potential. There is more to advanced combat skill than attending a series of training courses, some of which Hicks did not complete, and there is no evidence he has ever led anyone.

Both these reports show evidence of being what they are: reports written within a military chain of command for a higher level officer who did not expect to receive recommendations for release.  It looks to me as though the drafter of the reports started with the recommendation to retain and worked his way back to the best case he could make, which in both cases is full of holes. A prosecutor would have a torrid time trying to make any of this “evidence” stand up in a civilian court.

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