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In a belated attempt to win the PR battle over Guantánamo, a terrorism study center at West Point has produced a Pentagon-commissioned report, which attempts to refute the findings of a report published by the Seton Hall Law School in February 2006. Using the government’s own documents–517 Unclassified Summaries of Evidence from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals–the team at Seton Hall, led by lawyers Mark and Josh Denbeaux, analyzed the Summaries and concluded that, according to the government’s own assertions, 86 percent of the detainees were not captured on the battlefield by US forces, but were captured by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani forces, 55 percent were not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the US or its allies, and only 8 percent were alleged to have had any kind of affiliation with al-Qaeda. Even these assertions are doubtful. As I demonstrate in The Guantánamo Files (and as is apparent from numerous other sources, including, most recently, the “Guantánamo whistleblower” Stephen Abraham), claims made by the government in the Summaries of Evidence were not necessarily accurate, and the percentage of detainees who actually had any involvement with al-Qaeda or committed any kind of hostile act against the US or its allies is even less than claimed.
Nevertheless, the fine patriots at West Point, while admitting that their report is a propaganda exercise, designed “to affect public attitudes,” and with conclusions that should “enhance our collective understanding of the threats facing the United States, its allies and its interests and how we respond to them,” have looked at the same documents and have produced what the New York Times has unquestioningly described as “a chilling portrait of the Guantánamo detainees,” claiming that 73 percent of them were a “demonstrated threat” to American or coalition forces, and that 95 percent were at least a “potential threat,” and included detainees who had “played a supporting role in terrorist groups or had expressed a commitment to pursuing jihadist violence.”
What nonsense. If this is the case, why have so many of these “threats” been released or cleared for release? In the three years since the 517 Summaries were compiled, 207 of the detainees studied have been released from Guantánamo. Almost all have been freed on their return to their home countries, and almost all have returned to civilian life. In addition, many–as well as reporting credible stories of torture and abuse at the hands of the US authorities in Afghanistan and Guantánamo–have reiterated the stories that they maintained throughout their detention: that they were either innocent men, mostly sold to the US by bounty hunters and unscrupulous allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Taliban foot soldiers, who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight other Muslims–those of the Northern Alliance–before 9/11, as part of a long-running civil war.
Of the 310 detainees who have not been released, the administration itself admits that it intends to try 80 of these men before Military Commissions, that it intends to hold another 50 because they are too dangerous to be released but not dangerous enough to be tried (which law book did they find that in then?) and that the rest are “eligible for release” because they are “not or no longer a threat.”
Let’s have a look at that again, shall we? On the one hand, the administration commissions its boys to come up with a report stating that 73 percent of the detainees were a “demonstrated threat,” and 95 percent were a “potential threat,” and on the other hand the administration itself has released, or cleared for release, 75 percent of the detainees because they were “not or no longer a threat” (and that’s not counting the 201 detainees who were released before the tribunal process began). How are we supposed to take these clowns seriously?
ANDY WORTHINGTON (www.andyworthington.co.uk) is a British historian, and the author of ‘The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison’ (to be published by Pluto Press in October 2007).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org