Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has written a new piece Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay. In it Wilkerson describes some of the dirty secrets of the prison. Among these are the almost total absence of screening of who went there, the incredible lack of care in keeping records for possible criminal prosecution, and efforts within the administration to change some of these problems early on, efforts that were stymied by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney.
But perhaps most importantly, Wilkerson is the first person I can recall to say explicitly what I have long suspected, that the detainee’s innocence was irrelevant to their detention:
The fourth unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that 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 (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals–in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.
Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.
I hope that this point will get greater attention. After all, we have a term for knowingly locking up innocent people, and its “kidnapping.” Certainly there ought to be investigations of this possibility, with potential criminal penalties where appropriate. Knowingly locking up innocent people indefinitely cannot be tolerated in a society claiming to be “civilized.” No habeas process, taken eight years can possibly make up for this.
Wilkerson is also one of few in a position to now to state clearly that no intelligence of value was obtained from the eight years of maintaining most of the detainees in this awful concentration camp disguised as an “intelligence-gathering” facility:
In addition, it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way–from classified information or otherwise–that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.
This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.
Wilkerson also responds to Cheney’s recent attacks on Obama for threatening the safety of the country:
Cheney went on to say in his McLean interview that “Protecting the country’s security is a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people and we are not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” I have to agree but the other way around. Cheney and his like are the evil people and we certainly are not going to prevail in the struggle with radical religion if we listen to people such as he.
When–and if–the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.
On that revelation and those actions rests much of the credibility of our nation’s return to sobriety and our truest values. In fact, on such positive developments may ultimately rest our entire future as a free people. For there shall inevitably be future terrorist attacks. Al-Qa’ida has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks.
But al-Qa’ida will be back. Iraq, GITMO, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased U.S. support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qa’ida’s resilience, staying power and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Aman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.
As we have known for a while, we as a people are left to decide whether we will close our eyes to these abuses in the name of “national security” or in the new name of “looking forward.” Will we allow these abuses to remain officially undocumented, unacknowledged, and unpunished?
Read the whole piece here.
March 18th, 2009