WASHINGTON: The United States released dozens of “high-risk” Guantanamo inmates and held over 150 innocent men for years, a fresh trove of classified military files showed Sunday.
The 779 documents, part of a massive cache of secret memos leaked to whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks last year, were made available to a select group of US and European media outlets, including The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and La Repubblica.
Thousands of pages of files were said to reveal that most of the 172 prisoners who remain at the US naval base in southeastern Cuba – 130 of them – have been rated as posing a “high-risk’ threat to the United States and its allies if they are freed without being rehabilitated or supervised as needed.
Even more of the George W Bush-era “war on terror” suspects – about a third of the 600-some men who have already been transferred to third countries – were also branded “high-risk” before being released or handed to other governments, the Times noted.
In a troublesome revelation for the United States and its allies as they seek to back anti-government forces in Libya who are fighting to oust longtime strongman Moamer Qaddhafi, the documents showed one of the rebels’ presumed trainers has closer ties to alQaeda than previously thought.
Abu Sufian bin Qumu was engaged in violent extremist activities for two decades, previously training at two alQaeda camps, fighting with the Taliban against the Soviet Union and the Northern Alliance and serving as alQaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s driver in Sudan, according to National Public Radio. He had spent a six-year stint at Guantanamo and the United States agreed to hand him over to Libyan authorities in 2007 following a request by Kadhafi, NPR added. Libyan authorities freed him last summer.
The Times said the files, which detail the background of each of the 779 people who have passed through the prison facility since 2002, revealed little about harsh interrogation tactics used at Guantanamo, including sleep deprivation and simulated drowning, that sparked widespread condemnation around the world.
But a number of prisoners were said to have made up false claims of torture. Overall, US military analysts considered only 220 of the people ever detained at Guantanamo to be dangerous extremists, The Daily Telegraph said, while another 380 people were deemed to be low-ranking foot soldiers who traveled to Afghanistan or were part of the Taliban.
At least another 150 people were innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including drivers, farmers and chefs, who had been rounded up as part of frantic intelligence gathering in war zones and were then detained for years due to mistaken identity or simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In dozens of cases, senior US commanders were said to have concluded that there is “no reason recorded for transfer.” Officials at Guantanamo were aware in at least two cases that they were holding innocent men behind bars and even acknowledged that in writing in their prison files, and yet it still took months for them to be returned to their home countries, according to NPR.
In their top-secret Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs), military analysts also provided fresh information about their highest-profile detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
He was said to have ordered a one-time Baltimore resident around March 2002 to wear a suicide bomb vest and perform a “martyrdom” attack against then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. But in the end, the assignment turned out to simply be a test of Majid Khan’s “willingness to die for the cause.”
President Barack Obama’s administration, which has struggled to shutter Guantanamo due to the political backlash over his plans to do so, denounced the “unfortunate” release of the classified documents and stressed the DABs provided incomplete assessments. It defended both its efforts and those of its predecessor president George W Bush for having “made every effort to act with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantanamo.”
“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 statement added.
It was signed by Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell and Ambassador Dan Fried, the State Department’s special envoy in charge of negotiating the facility’s closure.