George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent’

(Andres Leighton/AP)

Two detainees are escorted to interrogation by US military guards at Guantánamo Bay

Image :1 of 2


Tim Reid, Washinton


George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of
innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared
that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War
on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell,
the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support
a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such
allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the
State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed
that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority
of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but
believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the
misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for
the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel
Wilkerson’s declaration.

Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to
counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of
detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never
saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over
by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was
produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the
innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be
revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not
acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to
the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army,
asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo
detainees were innocent … If hundreds of innocent individuals had to
suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

He alleged that for Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld “innocent people languishing in
Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader War on Terror and the
small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11
attacks”.

He added: “I discussed the issue of the Guantánamo detainees with Secretary
Powell. I learnt that it was his view that it was not just Vice-President
Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld, but also President Bush who was involved in
all of the Guantánamo decision making.”

Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld, Colonel Wilkerson said, deemed the incarceration of
innocent men acceptable if some genuine militants were captured, leading to
a better intelligence picture of Iraq at a time when the Bush Administration
was desperate to find a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, “thus
justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country”.

He signed the declaration in support of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese man who
was held at Guantánamo Bay from March 2003 until December 2007. Mr Hamad
claims that he was tortured by US agents while in custody and yesterday
filed a damages action against a list of American officials.

Defenders of Guantánamo said that detainees began to be released as early as
September 2002, nine months after the first prisoners were sent to the jail
at the US naval base in Cuba. By the time Mr Bush left office more than 530
detainees had been freed.

A spokesman for Mr Bush said of Colonel Wilkerson’s allegations: “We are not
going to have any comment on that.” A former associate to Mr Rumsfeld said
that Mr Wilkerson’s assertions were completely untrue.

The associate said the former Defence Secretary had worked harder than anyone
to get detainees released and worked assiduously to keep the prison
population as small as possible. Mr Cheney’s office did not respond.

There are currently about 180 detainees left in the facility.

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