WikiLeaks: original sin of Guantanamo

2011-04-26 22:37

Washington - Innocent bystanders locked up for no reason, al-Qaeda militants released to commit new atrocities: WikiLeaks has poured light on the "original sin" of Guantanamo, activists and experts say.

Documents released by the whistle blowing website show a system riddled with errors and botched assessments that have helped lead floundering efforts to shutter the facility on the southern tip of Cuba into a legal quagmire.

"These documents are remarkable because they show just how questionable the government's basis has been for detaining hundreds of people, in some cases indefinitely, at Guantanamo," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

"The one-sided assessments are rife with uncorroborated evidence, information obtained through torture, speculation, errors and allegations that have been proven false," the rights group said.

"The documents are the fruit of the original sin by which the rule of law was scrapped when Guantanamo detainees were first rounded up."

For military justice expert Eugene Fidell, the documents prove not only that the detentions were unjust, but also that they were ineffective militarily.

"What becomes clear is the amateur quality of the interrogations and the chaotic nature of the work that was done during interrogations," he said.

"They would have been a lot better off had they done what the Geneva conventions require in case of doubt, which is hold an inquiry, hold a so-called competent tribunal on or near the battlefield."

The damage is done

Now, for the 172 inmates who remain, "the damage is done," Fidell said. "[Officials] are doing the only things they can do, they are taking a very hard look at the people who are left."

President Barack Obama, in one of his first acts upon taking office in January 2009, promised to shutter the facility within a year, saying it epitomized all that was wrong with his predecessor's "war on terror".

Determined to right the wrongs of president George W Bush's administration, he set up a working group to review the files of the 240 inmates still being held.

But, according to the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, the files were years out of date and repeated inaccurate Bush administration allegations "long since put to rest".

The legal advocacy group is calling on the Obama administration to publish its own findings, revealing who has been designated for trial, who will be released, and who will be held indefinitely.

"Without names and details of cases where the administration claims it needs to detain individuals without charges or trial, it will continue to be impossible to have any meaningful public debate about the wisdom of such a policy," it said.

The ACLU struck a similar tone, saying: "It's not too late to change course.

"We need more legal process, not less, to make sure we're holding the right people. The cases of the remaining Guantanamo detainees cry out for independent judicial review," it said.

Back-pedalling

Benjamin Wittes, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the right approach was to build and adhere to systems of justice that "reflect an appreciation of the uncertainty inherent in this sort of exercise.

"We need to accept that we will detain people whose detentions we will come to regret, and we will release people whose releases we will come to regret. We should not pretend when either happens that certainty was possible."

The Obama administration has been back-pedalling on Guantanamo pretty hard recently, although it insists it still would like to close the facility as soon as possible.

Many of those remaining in Guantanamo are of Yemeni descent and there is an obvious reluctance to return even "low-risk" inmates to such a hotbed of al-Qaeda militancy when the country is in the throes of a popular uprising.

Congress because of security concerns has blocked the president from bringing accused terrorists to stand trial in federal courts in the United States, so his attorney general reluctantly has agreed to proceed with military tribunals at Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, legal questions abound on water-boarding and confessions allegedly extracted through torture.

The trials of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several alleged accomplices are likely to drag on for many years, extending the life of Guantanamo well beyond Obama's White House tenure.

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