Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wilkerson on Guantanamo

Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and currently Chairman of the New America Foundation, shares his thoughts on the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in a guest post on The Washington Note.

  • The vetting of battlefield detainees in Afghanistan shortly after the invasion in late 2001 was "utterly incompetent."
  • Several senior Bush administration officials became aware of this early on as well as "the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released."
  • This was not acknowledged in order to save the Bush administration embarassment.
  • Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage tried valliantly to repatriate the innocent.
  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney "would have none of it."
  • Even those "two dozen or so detainees" who were hard-core terrorists could not be tried legally due to sheer incompetence in cataloging and maintaining legally useful evidence.

Wilkerson sums up the entire mess:

In addition, it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way--from classified information or otherwise--that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.

This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric--continuing even now in the case of Cheney--about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.

Cheney repeated many of these deceptions this past weekend in an interview on CNN. The interrogation practices by the Bush administration remain a black mark upon our nation's soul. I agree with Wilkerson that it is essential that the Obama administration investigate these practices and restore the rule of law to our response to Islamist terrorism.

UPDATE: Thomas Ricks chimes in on his Foreign Policy blog.

People have been tortured in our names. That is a fact. If you disagree, what do you know that the Red Cross doesn't?

This makes me think more than ever that we need a truth and reconciliation commission -- not to punish the low-level guys who inflicted torture, but to set the record straight on who thought it was a good idea to make the use of torture U.S. national policy. Those are the people who dragged this country's name through the mud, and who also didn't understand that we can't win a war for our values by undermining them.

--Ballard Burgher

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