Last Updated: Tue Apr 26, 2011 07:51 am (KSA) 04:51 am (GMT)

Letter from Washington: A rare look inside Guantanamo

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police during in-processing to the temporary detention facility at Camp X-Ray of Naval Base Guantanamo Bay. (File photo)
Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police during in-processing to the temporary detention facility at Camp X-Ray of Naval Base Guantanamo Bay. (File photo)

A collection of more than 700 classified Guantanamo documents released by WikiLeaks this week offers a rare inside view of the controversial detention facility in southwest Cuba and details the elements military analysts considered when assessing the threat level of detainees.

Strikingly, the detainee assessment briefs show that much of the intelligence collected about detainees was gleaned through interrogations…with other detainees. The documents depict a detention facility rife with informants willing to provide information on one another that was often contradictory and sometimes proven false.

The documents include never-before-seen pictures of the detainees and detail how each was captured. They also log interactions between the guard force and the detainees, list those on hunger strikes and meticulously detail threats or attacks against the guards. Detainees had in the past frequently used bodily fluids as a way to attack the guards, although camp commanders recently told journalists that guard-detainee “incidents” were down.

The documents may also further exacerbate relations between the United States and Pakistan as they reveal that the Pakistani Intelligence Service were listed in the same category as terrorist networks like Al Qaeda.

The briefs, which were prepared by military intelligence between 2006 and 2009, classify detainees as a high, medium or low threat risk to the United States if released. They were supposed to help determine whether a detainee would be tried, released or continue to be held. However, many detainees classified as being of a high risk were released, and many low risk detainees continue to be held.

Both the Bush and the Obama administrations also appear to have released detainees based less on their threat assessment, and more on the countries they came from; Yemenis continue to be held, and most of the Saudis were released.

Moreover, the documents show that the chance of a former detainee engaging in terrorism after his release had little to do with his threat classification.

The leaked threat assessments, drafted during the tenure of President George W. Bush, frequently differed from those produced by the Guantanamo Review Task Force, established later by the Obama administration to evaluate the detainees.

The Pentagon acknowledged the discrepancy in a written statement issued in response to the leaks: “In some cases, the Task Force came to the same conclusions as the DAB (Detainee Assessment Briefs). In other instances the Review Task Force came to different conclusions, based on updated or other available information.”

White House spokesperson Jay Carney said that a detainee assessment brief in 2006 “may or may not be reflective of the administration or the government’s view of that particular detainee in 2011.”

The documents, which provide previously unknown facts about individual detainees, do not address the issue of harsh interrogation techniques used on many of the detainees, nor do they contain new information that would alter the general understanding of how the camp is operated.

Andrea Prasow, senior counter terrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch and a lawyer for former Guantanamo prisoner Salim Hamdan, says the documents help paint a fuller picture of what happened at the camp: “They show us that only about eight detainees provided information about hundreds of others, and in many cases, federal judges later determined the information wasn’t reliable and included made up stories…and yet this was the basis on which hundreds of detainees were held for years without charge.”

A spokesperson for the detention facility in the US Navy base in Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Don Langley, said in response to a query by Al Arabiya, “Camp operations continue as normal and nothing out of the ordinary has been observed as a result of recent media coverage.” Detainees have access to multiple live television stations, including news networks. They also have access to newspapers, though those are sometimes redacted.

In more colorful details, whether a detainee was captured wearing a Casio watch or not also was factored into his threat assessment, as these watches were frequently used to detonate explosives.

James Carafano, a defense expert and senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says the assessments should be viewed in the context they were written in: just months after the September 11th attacks and in the absence of a procedure for mass detention.

“You have to remember, Guantanamo has always been a work in progress,” Mr. Carafano said.

(Muna Shikaki is a correspondent for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, D.C., and can be followed on twitter @munashik)

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