Bush Insider Reveals Guantanamo Deception: Hundreds of Innocents Jailed

by Bill Quigley / April 20th, 2010

Colonel
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell, provided shocking new testimony from inside the Bush
Administration that hundreds of the men jailed at Guantanamo were
innocent, the top people in the Bush Administration knew full well they
were innocent, and that information was kept from the public.

Wilkerson said President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary
of Defense Rumsfeld “indefinitely detained the innocent for political
reasons” and many in the administration knew it. The wrongfully held
prisoners were not released because of political maneuverings aimed in
part to cover up the mistakes of the administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who served in the U.S. Army for over thirty
years, signed a sworn declaration for an Oregon federal court case
stating that he found out in August 2002 that the US knew that many of
the prisoners at Guantanamo were not enemy combatants. Wilkerson also
discussed this in a revealing and critical article on Guantanamo for
the Washington Note.

How did Colonel Wilkerson first learn about the innocents in
Guantanamo? In August 2002, Wilkerson, who had been working closely
with Colin Powell for years, was appointed Chief of Staff to the
Secretary of State. In that position, Wilkerson started attending daily
classified briefings involving 50 or more senior State Department
officials where Guantanamo was often discussed.

It soon became clear to him and other State Department personnel
“that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into
custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or
in fact whether many of them were enemies at all.”

How was it possible that hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners were
innocent? Wilkerson said it all started at the beginning, mostly
because U.S. forces did not capture most of the people who were sent to
Guantanamo. The people who ended up in Guantanamo, said Wilkerson, were
mostly turned over to the US by Afghan warlords and others who received
bounties of up to $5000 per head for each person they turned in. The
majority of the 742 detainees “had never seen a U.S. soldier in the
process of their initial detention.”

Military officers told Wilkerson that “many detainees were turned
over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other
incentives.” The U.S. knew “that the likelihood was high that some of
the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces in order to
settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making
money.”

As a consequence, said Wilkerson “there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”

Wilkerson wrote that the American people have no idea of the “utter
incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the
initial stages… Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination
was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to
who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”

Why was there utter incompetence in the battlefield vetting? “This
was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, the troops
and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled
in such vetting, and the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to ‘just get the bastards to the
interrogators.’”

As a result, Wilkerson’s statement continues, “there was no
meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or
simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or
in the territory of another state such as Pakistan.”

In addition, the statement points out “a separate but related
problem was that often absolutely no evidence relating to the detainee
was turned over, so there was no real method of knowing why the
prisoner had been detained in the first place.”

“The initial group of 742 detainees had not been detained under the
processes I was used to as a military officer,” Wilkerson said. “It was
becoming more and more clear that many of the men were innocent, or at
a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in
any court of law, civilian or military. If there was any evidence, the
chain of protecting it had been completely ignored.”

Several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this early on and
knew “of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any
substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be
immediately released,” wrote Wilkerson.

So why did the Bush Administration not release the men from prison
once it was discovered that they were not guilty? Why continue to keep
innocent men in prison?

“To have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their
leadership from virtually day one of the so-called War on Terror and
these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in
Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the
World Trade Towers,” wrote Wilkerson.

“They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo
Bay. Better to claim everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of
enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released,”
according to Wilkerson. “I am very sorry to say that I believe there
were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at
the highest levels of our armed forces.”

The refusal to let the detainees go, even those who were likely
innocent, was based on several political factors. If the US released
them to another country and that country found them innocent, it would
make the US look bad, said Wilkerson. “Another concern was that the
detention efforts at Guantanamo would be revealed as the incredibly
confused operation that they were. Such results were not acceptable to
the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the
leadership at the Department of Defense.”

At the Department of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld, “just refused to let detainees go” said Wilkerson.

“Another part of the political dilemma originated in the Office of
Vice President Richard B. Cheney,” according to Wilkerson, “whose
position could be summed up as ‘the end justifies the means’, and who
had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo
detainees were innocent, or that there was a lack of usable evidence
for the great majority of them. If hundreds of innocent individuals had
to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be
it.”

President Bush was involved in all of the decisions about the men in
Guantanamo according to reports from Secretary Powell to Wilkerson. “My
own view,” said Wilkerson “is that it was easy for Vice President
Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because
Cheney had the network within the government to do so. Moreover, by
exploiting what Secretary Powell called the President’s ‘cowboy
instincts,’ Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the
President’s acquiescence.”

Despite the widespread knowledge inside the Bush administration that
the US continued to indefinitely detain the innocent at Guantanamo, for
years the US government continued to publicly say the opposite — that
people at Guantanamo were terrorists.

After these disclosures from deep within the Bush Administration,
the newest issue now before the people of the U.S. is not just whether
the Bush Administration was wrong about Guantanamo but whether it was
also consistently deceitful in holding hundreds of innocent men in
prison to cover up their own mistakes.

Why is Colonel Wilkerson disclosing this now? He provided a sworn
statement to assist the International Human Rights Clinic at Willamette
University College of Law in Oregon and the Federal Public Defender who
are suing US officials for the wrongful detention and torture of Adel
Hassan Hamad. Hamad was a humanitarian aid worker from Sudan working in
Pakistan when he was kidnapped from his apartment, tortured and shipped
to Guantanamo where he was held for five years before being released.

At the end of his nine page sworn statement, Wilkerson explains his
personal reasons for disclosing this damning information. “I have made
a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred
because knowledge that I served an Administration that tortured and
abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantanamo Bay and
elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons
has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the
record clear on what occurred. I am also extremely concerned that the
Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my
professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes.”

Wilkerson concluded his article on Guantanamo by issuing a
challenge. “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.”

The U.S. rightly criticizes Iran and China for wrongfully
imprisoning people. So what are we as a nation going to do now that an
insider from the Bush Administration has courageously revealed the
truth and the cover up about U.S. politicians wrongfully imprisoning
hundreds and not releasing them even when they knew they were innocent?
Our response will tell much about our national commitment to justice
for all.

Bill Quigley represented Pere
Jean-Juste many times in Haiti along with the Bureau des Avocats
Internationaux in Port au Prince and the Institute for Justice and
Democracy in Haiti. Bill is on leave from Loyola University College of
Law in New Orleans serving as Legal Director of the Center for
Constitutional Rights. He can be reached at: quigley77@gmail.com. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill’s website.

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