Press Release: New Guantánamo Papers Released—A Massive Egg on the Face of the United States

On April 24, 2011, hundreds of classified documents regarding the military prison camp maintained by the U.S. Government at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were released to The New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR). The documents had originally been turned over to WikiLeaks, but both the Times and NPR maintain that WikiLeaks was not their source. Among the documents distributed were the profiles of several prominent inmates of the facility, reports regarding life at the prison, and a “threat matrix” that clarifies how to classify different inmates based upon their individual risk levels. The release of these documents turned out to be a massive embarrassment to the United States and should have been a wake-up call, adding to the growing list of arguments to expedite the termination of the institution. This debate will likely intensify with the gunning down of Osama bin Laden on May 2.

The “threat matrix” in particular exemplifies how unrefined the detainment process has been at the infamous facility. This two-page document outlines whether an inmate should be indefinitely held, transferred somewhere else, or be released, according to his “risk” level and any information the detainee was thought to possess. The document also recommends how to categorize a prisoner into a “risk” level, incorporating vague language such as “he may have been” or “he does not appear,” often making evaluations a subjective endeavor.1 With such an overly simplistic and poorly defined method like the “threat matrix” to characterize the inmates, the final classification of prisoners was largely left to the discretion of the prison guards and their personal, often rudimentary beliefs about the detainees. Even if a prisoner was classified as “low risk,” yet was determined to have high intelligence value, the matrix would recommend that he should remain in captivity at Guantánamo.

Shamefully, documented cases have proven that even this oversimplified matrix was more often than not mishandled. Several reports indicate that innocent men have been incarcerated, and that officials at Guantánamo recorded in the prisoners’ assessments that they were aware of the men’s innocence. Despite this knowledge, these innocent detainees languished in prison for several months.2 Other instances indicated that some dangerous inmates had been incorrectly assessed as low-risk, and were subsequently released. However, cases of innocent detainees were more numerous than cases of released high-risk prisoners. Unfortunately, the high-risk cases distracted the public from the reality of the mass incarceration of innocent people. As Scott Shane and Benjamin Weiser of The New York Times put it, “For every case of an Abdullah Mehsud—someone wrongly judged a minimal threat—there are several instances in which prisoners rated ‘high-risk’ were released and have not engaged in wrongdoing.”3

Such erratic risk analysis likely stems from a document that outlines how to assess the danger posed by a specific prisoner. According to the report, potential signs of danger include wearing a Casio F91W watch, traveling without documents, claiming to be a farmer, cook, or in the honey business, and being uncooperative.4 Another document describes the ways that a detainee might try to obfuscate the results of interrogation sessions. For example, an uncooperative prisoner might summarize answers, speak slowly, and ask an interrogator to repeat their questions.5 These documents render anything and everything suspicious, leading many detainees to be falsely labeled “high-risk.”

Another reason that a detainee may be incorrectly classified is that Guantánamo officials often relied on the testimony of other prisoners to incriminate suspected terrorists. Some of these testimonies might have been given under extreme circumstances such as torture, and other prisoners possibly gave false information as a means of sending officials down the wrong path. The testimony of Abu Zubayda, an Al-Qaeda member who was water-boarded, was used in the assessments of over 100 prisoners, but was later thrown out in several court cases due to Zubayada’s unreliability.6 In other cases, the testimony of mentally ill prisoners have been used in risk assessments, calling into question the validity of their statements and the reports derived from them.7

Other released documents outlined the harsh treatment that some prisoners have endured. The most prominent example was that of Mohammed Qahtani, a Saudi who likely intended to participate in the September 11 attacks, but was not able to. He had been leashed, stripped naked, and forced to urinate on himself in a heinous act of humiliation.8

From problems of habeas corpus, to torture issues, and now to the credibility of the institution to identify suspects correctly, Guantánamo has been the subject of numerous embarrassments for the United States. With this facility prompting so many issues, President Obama needs to fulfill his original pledge and finally shut down the deplorable institution.

References for this article can be found here

4 thoughts on “Press Release: New Guantánamo Papers Released—A Massive Egg on the Face of the United States

  • May 4, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    really well-written and well-researched article! a pleasure to read.

  • May 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    The analysis of the problems with the threat assessment matrix is eye-opening. Just another instance of the U.S. doing so many simple things poorly. One would think that there would be real experts in that field who were not consulted and instead someone else, with no or little training, was put to a task that he and his superiors didn't realize was beyond him. That said one criticism: in the last sentence of the first paragraph the author writes the "gunning down of Osama bin Laden." We all know by now that he was murdered by a Seal under orders to do so, and we all understand why that happened. If Quantanamo has all its problems, what would they be if OBL were there, especially when there was a virtually automatic death penalty waiting for the self-confessed mastermind behind the killing of thousands of people worldwide? Anyway: "gunning down" is rhetorically off-putting; so why run the risk of using such a phrase from the lingo of mob hits and thereby leading some readers to go no further because they assume the rest of the article will be a "hit" job on the U.S?

  • May 7, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Well, the corporated medias would not inform us about the reality neither those in the US nor those in Europe.
    But some alternative medias do:
    On „“, on October 15, 2001 we found an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, which had been posted by Nouvel Observateur, Paris in January 15-21 in 1998, in which Brzezinkski admitted that the CIA had armed and trained the Mudjahedin and Taliban against the democratically elected Nadjibullah regime already half a year before the Soviet army marched into Afghanistan. [Osama bin Laden operated as a intermediary between Mudjahedin and CIA, in those days he seemed to be quite useful, however, in reality, he did not only hate the Soviets, but the US, as well.]
    The Nadjibullah regime had begun with an agrar reform and opening universities for women. The warlords of the Taliban and Mudjahedin would not tolerate this and fought against it with the help of the USA.
    Therefore, Nadjibullah called for help of the Soviet Union. …
    Brzezinski reported proudly that because of this Afghanistan war finally the Soviet Union had collapsed, s.:… ;
    My impression is: As in many other places at the world, wherever people tried to install democracy and to lift the level of living of all their compatriots the United States had intervened in favour of their own prosperity.

    That is why, we, most of the German people, want to stop our government from participating at the Afghanistan war and of course to close the concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay.
    Furthermore, many Germans are criticizing our Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel for expressing her joy about the "gunning down" of Osama bin Laden. In our opinion he should have be brought to trial. There is one German judge having sued Angela Merkel, because her unlawful officially made statement.
    Everybody feeling commited to human rights. laws being determined by his/her constitution and international laws and conventions is regarding such "gunning down" as fulfilling a vendetta or lynch justice.
    Please, compare to other cases like those of Bradley Manning, Mumia Abu Jamal, David Troy, the "Cuban Five", s. .


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