The ongoing extradition hearings of Julian Assange in the UK have once again brought to the limelight the many contributions of WikiLeaks. Information revealed by the organization has not only helped understand the extent of US war crimes and brutalities but also take action against it in global forums. The Gitmo Files that revealed abuses in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are a classic example.
The Gitmo files, published by WikiLeaks in 2011, exposed how the lives of numerous innocents or people with minor criminal records were destroyed in the infamous detention facility to legitimize the so-called global war on terror. Last week, Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer and human rights activist who has worked with the Guantanamo detainees, testified in front of the judge hearing the extradition proceedings of Julian Assange. According to him, had Wikileaks not released the Gitmo files, it would have been impossible for people like Ahmed Rabbani, a taxi driver from Pakistan, to claim their innocence.
What Stafford Smith was saying in court is clear. WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and others involved in making the Gitmo files public have served humanity and justice, and should be treated as heroes not criminals. The files had helped expose the gory facts of human rights violations by state officials, which were otherwise hidden from public view in the name of secrecy and national security.
Just as the Iraq and Afghanistan war documents leaked in 2010, WikiLeaks published thousands of pages of “secret” documents related to the US’ Guantanamo detention center in 2011. The documents were given to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning in 2009. Other media organizations, including The Guardian and The New York Times, published these documents independently.
The Gitmo files, which run into thousands of pages, are the records of official communications between the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) and the US Southern Command in Miami, Florida, from 2002, when the detention center was inaugurated, up until 2008. The detention facility was established by the George Bush administration as a part of its so-called ‘global war on terror’ to fly in possible terror suspects from across the globe. The motive behind the detention center being established outside the US was to keep the suspects in detention for longer periods and deny them any possibility of legal recourse.
The most important part of the documents is “Detainee Assessment Briefs” or DAB, which were individual assessments of all the detainees in the said period. These are detailed reports about the detainees’ history, health, behavior, and the treatment meted out to them. There is also an assessment about the crimes they are accused of, along with recommendations.
Use of torture
The published documents have DABs of 765 of the then 779 detainees at Guantanamo. A cursory examination of these DABs reveals that the majority of detainees were tortured during their detention period. They were forced to confess their involvement in crimes, or indict other inmates, despite the fact that none of these confessions are legally admissible in the courts. Since most of the inmates were from countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan, and had been sent to Guantanamo after spending time in different prisons across the world, it was almost impossible for their relatives or state governments to protect them in any way.
The DABs reveal that barring a tiny minority, most of the detainees were found to be “innocents” or “involved in minor crimes.” Nonetheless, they were subjected to months of ‘interrogation’ which included methods such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to harsh weather conditions and high decibel sounds – all of which is categorized as torture. In some cases, confessions of mentally unstable inmates were deliberately used to implicate other inmates.
A large number of detainees were minors or were mentally unstable. There was an expose on how a 14-year-old boy and an 89-year-old man were transported to Guantanamo prison merely on the suspicion of being involved with the Taliban. Other examples include the detention of a taxi driver from Pakistan because officials thought he may know the terrain better and help in the investigation. A mullah was kept in detention for years without any formal links with the Taliban. There was also the case of an Al-Jazeera journalist detained for the purposes of extracting information about his sources.
Involvement of top state officials
An examination of the DABs proves that most of the detainees were falsely implicated for various reasons, ranging from inefficiency of the officials involved in identifying possible suspects, greed of remunerations offered by the US and local administrations to report suspects, or for simple religious and cultural biases prevalent among the US officials.
Pakistan’s ex-president Pervez Musharraf admitted in his memoir, In the Line of Fire, that Pakistan received millions of dollars by handing over terror suspects to the US. It is also difficult to imagine that scores of Afghans were lifted to the Guantanamo detention center without the cooperation of the local state officials.
The documents also reveal direct involvement of top officials of the Bush government in the torture of some of these inmates. Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was supposed to be one of the hijackers of the planes used in the attacks on the World Trade Center, was tortured with the active consent of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to the files.
Former US president Barack Obama failed to honor his electoral promise of shutting down the detention facility at Guantanamo after assuming office due to the pressure exerted by high officials in his administration. Though seven detainees reportedly died in Guantanamo and most others were either released or transferred to prisons in their native countries, the detention center is still functional and holds 40 detainees. Ahmed Rabbani is among those still languishing there without being charged. The information in the files released by WikiLeaks was vital in Rabbani’s appeal to the International Criminal Court
Most of the world would not have known about him or the treatment given to other inmates without the Gitmo files being released by Wikileaks. The facade of ‘national security’, which allows the concealment of government failures in the name of secrecy, was used to save massive embarrassment to high officials in the US. It is no surprise that they want to punish the person they think is responsible for letting the world know of their failures and real motives.