The LWOT: Massive cache of Gitmo docs released

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images
Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images

Massive cache of Gitmo docs released

Several American and European newspapers on Sunday night released an enormous cache of documents – some obtained by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and others from third sources – providing a wealth of information from the files of many of the 779 former and current detainees at Guantánamo Bay, stretching from 2002 until the beginning of 2009, when the Obama administration instituted its own review of the then-241 remaining detainees (NYT, NPR, Washington Post, McClatchy, Guardian, Telegraph, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegelfor a round-up of coverage, see FP). The documents, primarily composed of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DAB) of over 700 detainees but also containing interrogators’ memos on threat rankings, judging al Qaeda cover stories, and guidelines for judging terror links (available here), provide never-before released information on over 150 prisoners, as well as further information on all but about 75 detainees (NYT).

While the broad contours of much of the information in the documents has been previously reported, the new documents provide a more detailed look at the often contentious and subjective internal deliberations surrounding detainee evaluations (NYT, Guardian, Guardian, Miami Herald, AP, Guardian). The documents also reveal the complications surrounding detainee transfers, whereby diplomatic pressure and assurances led to the transfer of many detainees deemed "high risk" while detainees deemed innocent (150 from Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance) sometimes took years to be cleared and repatriated (WSJ, BBC, Guardian, CNN, NPR). Around 220 detainees were deemed "dangerous" while another 380 were considered more low-level fighters (Telegraph). Additionally, around 100 detainees were deemed to have "psychiatric illnesses," and the Times reports that detainees regularly discussed suicide (Guardian, NYT).

Initial reporting on the documents does contain new data on a number of fronts:

  • The Washington Post and others trace the travel patterns of Osama bin Laden and other key al Qaeda figures before, during and after the 9/11 attacks, which includes the journey to and escape from Tora Bora, planning for future attacks (some allegedly including nuclear or chemical weapons), and the presence of several al Qaeda leaders in Karachi on the morning of 9/11 (Washington Post, Guardian, NYT, AP). Reported plots allegedly included a plan to attack London’s Heathrow Airport (Der Spiegel);
  • Interrogators were told to consider links to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to be equivalent to links with al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas or Hezbollah (Guardian, Reuters, AFP, AP); 
  • At least 10 foreign governments, including China, Tunisia, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen and Kuwait were allowed to send agents to interrogate detainees (Guardian);
  • A Libyan former detainee now believed to be training rebels fighting dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu, was alleged to have trained in two al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and engendered close links with the organization (NPR, NYT);
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly told interrogators in 2004 a nuclear bomb hidden in Europe would detonate if Osama bin Laden were killed or captured, while other detainees told their interrogators about plans, some wildly implausible and others less-so, to acquire, transport and use radiological or chemical materials (Telegraph);
  • At least three al Qaeda leaders provided information, likely coerced, about alleged plans for Dr. Aafia-Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated neuroscientist to smuggle explosives into the U.S. and possibly manufacture bioweapons (Guardian);
  • U.S. interrogators believed an al Qaeda "assassin" had also worked as an informant for British intelligence while planning and conducting attacks in Pakistan after 9/11 (Guardian, BBC);
  • Involvement with one of nine mosques around the world could be regarded as an indicator of terrorist links, including a mosque in Montreal, Canada (Globe and Mail).
  • And having a certain type of Casio wristwatch was reportedly considered "an indicator of [al Qaeda] training in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)" (Der Spiegel).  

British papers showed particular concern for British detainees in their coverage of the documents, and the Telegraph reports that at least 35 Guantánamo detainees were radicalized in part in Britain (Guardian, Guardian, Guardian, Telegraph). The Times and NPR have created interactive graphics showing detailed data on the detainees, including recidivism by country of origin and the repatriation of detainees of different threat levels (NYT, NYT, NPR, Guardian). And the Washington Post has a timeline of major events at Guantánamo (Washington Post).  For additional commentary on what the documents do – and don’t – mean, see Foreign Policy, "The Prisoner’s Dilemma" (FP).

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell and Amb. Dan Fried, the U.S. envoy charged with closing Guantánamo, condemned the document release, saying (NYT):

Both the previous and the current Administrations have made every effort to act with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantanamo. … Both Administrations have made the protection of American citizens the top priority and we are concerned that the disclosure of these documents could be damaging to those efforts.

The Washington Post‘s Anne Kornblut notes this morning that various organizations and politicians from across the political spectrum have used the new documents to bolster long-held positions about Guantánamo (Washington Post). 172 prisoners remain at Gitmo, and this weekend’s Washington Post also has a must-read detailing the chronology and reasons behind President Obama’s failure to close the prison (Washington Post, Guardian). And a defiant U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech on Apr. 25 laid out the four "essential" priorities for the Justice Department, including "protecting Americans from terrorism at home and abroad" (Washington Post, CNN).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment (available here) on Apr. 25 charging four men with involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks; purported Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) figure and attack coordinator Sajid Mir, Abu Qahafa, Mazhar Iqbal, and a man known only as "Major Iqbal" (AP).
  • International forces in Afghanistan reportedly killed a senior al Qaeda figure in the country, a Saudi named Abdul Ghani or Abu Hafs al-Najdi, two weeks ago in the country’s east (BBC, AP, Reuters). Coalition forces also arrested a purported leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the northern Kunduz province last Friday (NYT).
  • Indonesian authorities arrested a 20th man in connection with recent bomb plots targeting moderate Muslims and Christians in the country, as authorities grow concerned about the involvement of older militant groups in the new wave of attacks and plots (AP, Jakarta Post, VOA).
  • Three suspected Northern Irish dissidents appeared in court yesterday after they were allegedly caught with weapons last Friday, one of three weapons seizures in Northern Ireland in the past several days (BBC, Guardian, AP).
  • Iran and Iraq signed an extradition agreement on Apr. 24 that may lead to members of the banned Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization being sent to Iran to face charges there (Reuters).
  • Investigators have named a suspect in the attempted bombing of a Colorado shopping mall last week, Earl Albert Moore, but said the incident was likely not related to the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, which took place nearby (AP).
Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola