President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld “indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons” and many in the administration knew it. The wrongfully held prisoners were not released because of political maneuverings aimed in part to cover up the mistakes of the administration.Speaking of Guantanamo and the US Government's disregard for detainees' legal rights, which disregard has everything to do with their atrocious and flagrant violation of detainees' human rights, today I happened to have read about artist Matt Cornell's performance piece featuring Yoo Toilet Paper, staged yesterday in the restrooms of UC-Berekeley's law school to protest the presence of John Yoo, author of the Bush Administraiton's infamous torture memos, on the School of Law's faculty.
Colonel Wilkerson, who served in the U.S. Army for over thirty years, signed a sworn declaration for an Oregon federal court case stating that he found out in August 2002 that the US knew that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo were not enemy combatants. Wilkerson also discussed this in a revealing and critical article on Guantanamo for the Washington Note.
How did Colonel Wilkerson first learn about the innocents in Guantanamo? In August 2002, Wilkerson, who had been working closely with Colin Powell for years, was appointed Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State. In that position, Wilkerson started attending daily classified briefings involving 50 or more senior State Department officials where Guantanamo was often discussed.
It soon became clear to him and other State Department personnel “that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all.”
How was it possible that hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners were innocent? Wilkerson said it all started at the beginning, mostly because U.S. forces did not capture most of the people who were sent to Guantanamo. The people who ended up in Guantanamo, said Wilkerson, were mostly turned over to the US by Afghan warlords and others who received bounties of up to $5000 per head for each person they turned in. The majority of the 742 detainees “had never seen a U.S. soldier in the process of their initial detention.”
Military officers told Wilkerson that “many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives.” The U.S. knew “that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money.”
As a consequence, said Wilkerson “there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”
Wilkerson wrote that the American people have no idea of the “utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the initial stages…Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”
....In addition, the statement points out “a separate but related problem was that often absolutely no evidence relating to the detainee was turned over, so there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”
“The initial group of 742 detainees had not been detained under the processes I was used to as a military officer,” Wilkerson said. “It was becoming more and more clear that many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military. If there was any evidence, the chain of protecting it had been completely ignored.”
Several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this early on and knew “of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released,” wrote Wilkerson.
So why did the Bush Administration not release the men from prison once it was discovered that they were not guilty? Why continue to keep innocent men in prison?
“To have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers,” wrote Wilkerson.
“They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released,” according to Wilkerson. “I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.”
The torture memos, in case you've forgotten, offered, in the words of the ACLU, "dozens of legal opinions meant to permit gross violations of domestic and international law." Each roll of Cornell's Yoo Toilet Paper contains text from the Convention Against Torture (which John Yoo disregarded in his memos). A short video of Matt Cornell and his fellow performers distributing the toilet paper can be seen here. One question did occur to me: why did Cornell put the text of a convention he would like to see honored on what people will be using to wipe their asses with? If it had been my piece, I would have put some of Yoo's text on the paper instead. But I suppose he was going for the ironic effect... something I'm not sure really works in this particular instance.