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Vincent Warren: Secret Guantanamo files reveal what’s been known for years – evidence against most detainees was a sham

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Various newspapers around the world, including McClatchy in the United States, released today, Monday, WikiLeaks’ releases or leaks of Guantanamo papers that show that people being held at Guantanamo, on the whole, not dangerous; the interrogation techniques, on the whole, ineffective, chaotic, relying on jailhouse snitches and gossip. Carol Rosenberg, writing in the McClatchy, DC, website, says about the interrogation: there’s not a whiff in the documents that any of the work is leading the US closer to capturing bin Laden. In fact, the documents suggest a sort of mission creep beyond the post-9/11 goal of hunting down the al-Qaeda inner circle and sleeper cells. The fall of one captive now living in Ireland shows he was sent to Guantanamo so the US military intelligence could gather information on the secret service of Uzbekistan. A man from Bahrain is shipped to Guantanamo in June 2002 in part for interrogation on, quote, personalities in the Bahraini court. The same month, US troops in Bagram in Afghanistan airlifted to Guantanamo a thirty-something sharecropper who Pakistani security forces scooped up along the Afghan border as he returned home from his uncle’s funeral. And it turns out they scooped him up because they wanted to ask him questions about possible passes through the mountains that al-Qaeda or the Taliban might be using. Now joining us to talk about these leaks and something they’ve been saying–they being the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York–have been saying for years about the conditions in Guantanamo is Vince Warren. Vince is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Thanks for joining us, Vince.

VINCENT WARREN: Thanks very much for having me.

JAY: So we’ve interviewed people from the Center before. I guess these leaks are not really news to you. People from your center and other lawyers working on this case have been saying much of this for years. But talk a bit about what was released today and what you make of it.

WARREN: Well, you know, there’s a lot of information here, and most of it not only is not new to us, but it isn’t new to most people. A lot of this information has been made public over the years. This is a document dump of approximately 750 assessments that were done by intelligence personnel between 2002 and 2009. And these were primarily during the Bush years, where this assessment was done. What we see in the documents is what we’ve known all along, but I think it really bears repeating, ’cause I think the American public has moved on from Gitmo, unfortunately, and the problems still remain, even under the Obama administration. What we’re seeing is that the documents show that the government knew that most of the men, that over 200 men were there, then they were absolutely innocent. They committed no crime; they had no connection to al-Qaeda. A lot of the people had no affiliation with al-Qaeda or even the Taliban, and they were simply there in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you look at some of this information, what you see is that the government was essentially trying to round up as many people as they could for information gathering purposes. This was not about keeping the worst of the worst off of the streets and making us all safe. This was about collecting information by using people that really didn’t have the wherewithal to be able to challenge the US and their rights against being detained illegally like they were.

JAY: And the techniques used would never be even closely acceptable within the United States. Apparently, something like less than a dozen jailhouse snitches provided information on 30 percent of the cases. It must have been obvious to the interrogators that this was ridiculous.

WARREN: Well, I think it was, and I think what you find in the documents is you begin to look at how the story of one detainee or information from one detainee migrates to a whole range of them, to the point where you have almost 300 people where that information begins to come up in their files. I mean, what we’re really looking at here is not a question of what did individuals do to raise arms against the United States. What we’re looking at are people who have been tortured, people who have been held in severe isolation, just like you were saying, Paul, people who were sexually humiliated, and then giving information that the intelligence services were then trying to use to try to flip other people. And what you ended up with was a whole lot of nothing. And what Guantanamo stands for is 779 people went through that facility. There are 172 left. And the vast majority of those folks had absolutely nothing to do with terrorists.

JAY: Now, one of the things that’s been said which is supposed to justify why people should be continued to be held there is that some of the people released went back to the battlefield.

WARREN: They’ve been saying that ever since George Bush decided that he wanted to close Guantanamo, ever since Dick Cheney decided that he was going to have another job after being vice president, he was going to be the chief fearmonger for the outgoing Bush administration. There’s always been this tale about people going back to the battlefield. CCR, the Center for Constitutional Rights, several years ago did an analysis of the battlefield-return discussion, and we found that–in the initial assessments, that the government was saying where people were going back to the battlefield, some of those people didn’t exist. Some of those people were in jail at the time that they were supposed to be in the battlefield, and a couple of them were still at Guantanamo when they were supposed to be at the battlefield. You know, in this latest document dump, there’s a discussion, at least in terms of how The New York Times talks about it, about the Russian detainees. They were not released from Guantanamo with a bus ticket and ready to go back to their lives. What actually happened to them was that they were detained in Russia for a number of years, some of them were tortured, and some of them were even killed. So these people did not return to the battlefield like that assessment said. You know, there’s an additional story that’s in here. A gentleman by the name of /ha."mu.d@/, who is a person from Libya, the threat assessment says that he returned to the battlefield. Well, it turns out when he got back to Libya after he was released. The role that he’s playing now is that he is an opposition force person that is with the government, the US government-backed rebels that are fighting Muammar Gaddafi even as we speak. So far from being someone that returned to the battlefield against US interests, what he did was he joined the struggle that’s going on in Libya to free them from the type of totalitarian regime that they have there. The other piece that’s important to remember is that as these documents came out, there was a little bit of pandering from the Obama administration. They issued a statement saying that since this information was done under the Bush administration, it doesn’t necessarily take into account the analysis that was done under the Obama administration after 2009. And so even the Obama administration admits that the information that’s there does not reflect whether the government itself has now disavowed that information, it doesn’t reflect whether the courts have found that information to be unreliable, and it doesn’t reflect whether the government’s changed its assessment.

JAY: One of the arguments that people are going to make from the Obama administration, I assume from some of the Republican Party, they’re going to say, well, okay, maybe this is true that a lot of people were picked up that were innocent. But the innocents have been more or less let go, and the ones that are still there are essentially the really dangerous people.

WARREN: Well, the Obama administration can’t make that claim, because of the 170 people that are still there, 90 of them are cleared for release by the US government. The US government doesn’t see them as a threat. And most of these men are from Yemen. And the reason why they’re being held is not because they’re dangerous but because the Obama administration feels that the political situation in Yemen is tenuous. So they’re really being held not because they pose any kind of threat but because politically the Obama administration is having a hard time making the case for releasing them to Yemen. So I think, you know, the fear factor has always been at play in Guantanamo, and every person that has been released from Guantanamo has been released out of the back door because the US government has had this dual narrative. One is that all of these guys are bad, and number two, but we’re not going to–we’re going to release the guys that aren’t bad. And now they’re in a situation where there are some guys that aren’t bad that still are not being released. There are some guys that are not bad, the Uyghurs in particular, the Chinese Muslims, where the Supreme Court won’t even take up their case. And Barack Obama’s administration is saying, well, now that we have a problem with sending these people or sending some of these men to federal courts because of the political pressure, we’re going to try them in these flawed military commissions, or we’re just going to keep them in Guantanamo until we figure out what to do with [crosstalk]

JAY: The Obama administration has completely gone back on everything it said it would do on Guantanamo, starting with closing it and then trying people domestically or letting people go. What do you think people should be saying to the Obama administration? Or, in other words, what should they be doing now, especially now that all this has gone public, that most of these cases are bogus? What should be their response?

WARREN: Well, I think if the Obama administration is saying that there is information that the Obama administration has that is different from this information that came out through the WikiLeaks, the Obama administration needs to live up to its ideals of transparency and accountability and make that information transparent. You know, I think Carol Rosenberg and other folks have said this as well. When you look at those documents as a whole, what you see is a hot mess at Guantanamo. Even President Obama in May 2009 called that situation a mess. And what he told us back then was that he was going to do an assessment to make clear-eyed recommendations as to what to do with the detainees. We don’t know what those clear-eyed recommendations are. They’ve still not said the number of people that they’re going to try in federal courts in military commissions and the number of people that they’re just going to hold there. But what he is saying is that we’re going to kowtow to the hysteria–and I mean hysteria–that’s happening in Congress right now. When Congress says, we’re not going to provide any funding to release anybody anywhere, much less send them to federal courts where they’ll have their day in court, that’s when the American people need to stand up to President Obama and say, you told us when we elected you that this was a situation that was untenable, that you would close it, and we need the type of leadership from the Obama administration that will get it closed, plain and simple.

JAY: Now, [incompr.] people that have been released who clearly have–were innocent, some held for two years or more, do they have any recourse? Is there any way to sue?

WARREN: No. As a matter of fact, I mean, one of the things we’ve been doing at the Center for Constitutional Rights is suing even when Congress says that you can’t sue. You have to remember that our case in the Supreme Court in 2008, /bu."mI.di.j@n/ vs. Bush, was a case in which Congress had passed the Military Commissions Act that said courts can’t hear any of the cases from the men in Guantanamo. We sued anyway, and we petitioned the courts to invalidate portions of that law so that the men could have their day in court, and the Supreme Court agreed with us. So the question isn’t really how have Congress and the administration conspired to keep the men out of court; the question really is whether courts are going to be able to see through that and hear the cases that are pending through these courts, even right now, and making sure that these men have their day in court. So if you’ve been released, depending on when you’ve been released and depending on whether the Bush administration [incompr.] particular hearing, your right to sue for damages, for conditions of confinement, for the harm that came to you, is severely, severely limited. Right now we have a case that is pending involving the death of certain people from Guantanamo. The government has been saying that these are suicide. The information is that they certainly were not suicide. And at the very least it raises the question as to whether they were killed for other political reasons. So these are cases that are going through the courts even as we speak. The courts still are a viable option for men in Guantanamo, but it really is going to take political pressure and politics to resolve this problem, and that’s where the Obama administration comes in.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us. Vince Warren from the Center for Constitutional Rights. And let me say, for full transparency, the president of the CCR is Michael Ratner. He’s on the board of The Real News Network. Thank you for joining us.

WARREN: Oh, thanks so much for having me.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Vincent Warren is the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a national legal and educational organization dedicated to advancing and defending the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Vince oversees CCR’s groundbreaking litigation and advocacy work which includes combating the illegal expansion of presidential power and policies such as illegal detention at Guantanamo, rendition, torture and warrantless wiretapping; holding corporations and government officials accountable for human rights abuses; and, challenging racial injustice and mass incarceration.