Digging Into Guantanamo

DIGGING INTO GUANTANAMO….I’m quite late getting to last week’s National Journal cover story about the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, but thanks to Jon Henke at QandO I’ve now figured out how many separate articles there are (four) and how they relate to each other. Taken together, they tell a chilling story.

The basic message from these four pieces is that the evidence against an awful lot of the Guantanamo prisoners isn’t just weak, it’s known to be flatly false. For example, here’s an account of Mohammed al-Tumani, a prisoner who was lucky enough to be assigned a “personal representative” who discovered that his primary accuser was a busy man indeed:

Tumani’s enterprising representative looked at the classified evidence against the Syrian youth and found that just one man ? the aforementioned accuser ? had placed Tumani at the terrorist training camp. And he had placed Tumani there three months before the teenager had even entered Afghanistan. The curious U.S. officer pulled the classified file of the accuser, saw that he had accused 60 men, and, suddenly skeptical, pulled the files of every detainee the accuser had placed at the one training camp. None of the men had been in Afghanistan at the time the accuser said he saw them at the camp.

The tribunal declared Tumani an enemy combatant anyway.

There’s more like this, and the story it tells is that the problem at Guantanamo isn’t just that it’s difficult separating fact from fiction when prisoners have been captured in the heat of battle and the witnesses against them are thousands of miles away and untrustworthy to boot. That’s a genuine problem, and not one that’s easily resolved.

Rather, in too many cases, it turns out the Pentagon is relying on blatantly fabricated evidence against many of the Guantanamo prisoners, and it’s doing so even though it knows the evidence against them is blatantly fabricated.

And it gets worse. After all, if the Guantanamo prisoners had been captured on the battlefield, that would constitute prima facie evidence that they were enemy combatants even if the rest of the evidence against them was worthless or trumped up. But they weren’t:

The largest single group at Guantanamo Bay today consists of men caught in indiscriminate sweeps for Arabs in Pakistan. Once arrested, these men passed through several captors before being given to the U.S. military. Some of the men say they were arrested after asking for help getting to their embassies; a few say the Pakistanis asked them for bribes to avoid being turned over to America.

….”The one thing we were never clear of was where they came from,” [Michael] Scheuer said of the Guantanamo detainees. “DOD picked them up somewhere.” When National Journal told Scheuer that the largest group came from Pakistani custody, he chuckled. “Then they were probably people the Pakistanis thought were dangerous to Pakistan,” he said. “We absolutely got the wrong people.”

That’s Michael Scheuer speaking, the man who headed the CIA’s bin Laden unit through 1999 and worked for the agency up through 2004.

To summarize then: According to the National Journal’s research, upwards of half of all prisoners at Guantanamo weren’t captured on the battlefield. Rather, they came into our custody by way of third parties “who had their own motivations for turning people in, including paybacks and payoffs.” Many ? perhaps most ? of the men rounded up in these sweeps have no connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and the evidence against them is often weak, sometimes nonexistent, and all too frequently known to be fabricated. And yet they remain in prison.

Corine Hegland wrote the main package of stories for the Journal. It consists of three separate pieces:

In addition, Stuart Taylor summarizes some of the evidence in Hegland’s three stories in an accompanying column. Jon Henke has Taylor’s column here and Dale Franks provides more information and some background detail here. It’s all worth reading.