GuantanamoLeaks: a media round-up
The Washington Post focuses on revelations in the testimonies gathered at Guantanamo about Al Qaeda’s movements and strategy in the wake of the 9/11 attack. The piece shows Osama bin Laden expectantly awaiting an American attack, as he travels around Afghanistan, from Kandahar, to Kabul, to Tora Bora, preparing Al Qaeda operatives to carry on ...
The Washington Post focuses on revelations in the testimonies gathered at Guantanamo about Al Qaeda’s movements and strategy in the wake of the 9/11 attack. The piece shows Osama bin Laden expectantly awaiting an American attack, as he travels around Afghanistan, from Kandahar, to Kabul, to Tora Bora, preparing Al Qaeda operatives to carry on in the event that he is killed. The article goes on to describe tensions among bin Laden’s lieutenants after bin Laden instructs them in early 2002 to take over day-to-day operations, before detailing their capture in Karachi, Pakistan. It also points out that the Guantanamo reports offer no information on the whereabouts of bin Laden and his top lieutenant Ali Zawahiri.
The Guardian takes a more strident editorial line on the Guantanamo papers’ revelations of, and presumedly studied silence toward, human rights abuses at the prison. "Material presented as ‘evidence’ in the assessments must be treated with skepticism as a number of files contain information known to have been extracted under torture," David Leigh emphasizes in an introductory note to the Guardian‘s coverage. Another piece focuses on instances where American authorities were particularly egregious in their disregard for the merit of the allegations against suspects. David Leigh and James Bell report on a group of "hapless Tajiks caught up in Karachi in 2002" who spent two years being maltreated at Guantanmo despite the fact that they were entirely innocent. They also point to the flimsy excuses used to justify the extended detainment of a rural Afghan mullah, and an Afghan taxi driver, among others. Another report suggests that an Al Qaeda operative detained at Guantanamo may have previously been working as an informant for British and Canadian intelligence services.
The Telegraph opts for sensationalism, starting its top Guantanamo article with the revelation that detainees have threatened to unleash a "nuclear hellstorm" in Europe in the event that Osama bin Laden is caught or killed by detonating a hidden nuclear bomb. The article also breathlessly recounts a number of other plots revealed by the leaks, including an attempt to recruit ground staff at Heathrow Airport to participate in terrorist attacks, and a plan to put cyanide in air-conditioning units of public building across the United States. Another Telegraph piece examines the revelation that a London telephone number belonging to the British Broadcasting Network (BBC) was "discovered in numerous seized phone books and phones associated with extremist-linked individuals." "The Daily Telegraph rang the phone number on Monday. A single tone on the line suggested that it had been disconnected, or was no longer in use."
Germany’s Der Spiegel focuses on the arbitrary determinations of the level of threat posed by suspects at Guantanamo. "The Guantanamo system was kept alive through persistent exaggeration and a lax attitude to the fact," the piece editorializes. The magazine points out that one detainee born in Germany, Murat Kurnaz, was described upon his incaraceration as "high risk," meaning that he was determined to be "likely" to pose a threat. "Only three months later, the supposedly ‘high risk’ prisoner was released…Since then he has kept a very low profile in Germany." The journalists also ridicule the "indicators" used to assess the likelihood of affiliation with terrorists, including $100 banknotes, and a type of Casio digital watch. Spiegel also suggests that the words "torture" and "waterboarding" appear in none of the documents.
McClatchey casts a skeptical eye on the intelligence gathered from Guantanamo detainees. "Intelligence analysts are at odds with each other over which informants, at time drawing inferences from prisoners’ exercise habits," write Carol Rosenberg and Tom Lasseter write. "Theyorder DNA tests, tether Taliban suspects to polygraphs, string together tidbits in ways that seemed to defy common sense." The writers say that at times the efforts to gather intelligence seem "comedic," amounting to little more than a cataloguing of "prurient gossip" that detainees dished at one another’s expense. McClatchey also points to evident "mission creep" beyond Guantanamo’s initial goal of warehousing Al Qaeda operatives, citing the detention of captives for the purpose of learning about Uzbekistan’s secret service, "personalities in the Bahraini court," and "covert travel routes through the Afghan-Pakistan border."
NPR focuses one of its reports on the political calculations that seem to underlie the release of detainees. "Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan account for more than half of the detainees transferred from Guantanamo," write Tom Gjelten, Dina Temple-Raston, and Margot Williams. The U.S. willingness to transfer detainees to Saudi custody was based largely on confidence in Saudi Arabia’s program to rehabilitate Islamist militants. "The repatriation of Russian detainees at Guantanamo was also arranged in government-to-government negotiations." NPR points out, however, that Russia has not proven a trustworthy interlocutor: American authorities were assured that one detainee would remain in detention upon being released to Russia, but he was immediately released from custody.
One report published by the New York Times is a damning look at how Guantanamo prison authorities handled detainees’ suicide attempts. "Even stray remarks about suicide could have consequences," writes Charlie Savage. "When assessing detainees’ risk level, analysts noted whether they were said to have expressed support for suicide – lowering their chances of release."