Opening the Guantánamo Files

 Anthony Kammer

On April 24, the Guantánamo files, a cache of leaked documents containing dossiers on 759 detainees were made available to the public via a number of major news outlets and through the Wikileaks website. The Obama Administration’s early response is available here. Both the revelations of the documents themselves and way the leak was published are proving to be fascinating and important developments.

The documents–memoranda from JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay, to US Southern Command in Miami, Florida–have revealed information on detainees, on U.S. information-gathering practices, and on the conditions at Guantánamo.

Among the revelations so far:

  • Many of the detainees at Guantanamo are “not dangerous.” Among the prisoners were a senile old man and a fifteen-year-old.
  • More generally, the military’s risk assessment methods have considerable flaws that have resulted in the release of many dangerous detainees while less dangerous detainees were kept.
  • As the Guardian described, “US authorities relied heavily on information obtained from a small number of detainees under torture. They continued to maintain this testimony was reliable even after admitting that the prisoners who provided it had been mistreated.”
  • Suicides are a regular threat and form of resistance at the camp.
  • The documents contain accounts of abusive and coercive questioning. (see for example the file on Mohammed al Qahtani).
  • The U.S. listed the Pakistani Intelligence service as a terrorist organization.

The actual leak itself is proving interesting in its own right. The New York Times reported last night that it had not obtained the files from Wikileaks but from “another source on the condition of anonymity” and would be sharing the files with NPR and the Guardian. Wikileaks, which had obtained the files from Bradley Manning, reportedly did not share the documents with the New York Times directly but proceeded to leak them on its own site and in conjunction with other organizations such as the Washington PostAl Jazeera, and others.

In explaining why some news organizations were cut out of the loop, David Leigh of the Guardian had the following to say, “This is all because of Julian Assange’s feuding with the Guardian and the New York Times, and what he’s decided to do now is cut us out of it and distribute the files to a range of right-wing newspapers, including the Telegraph.” Although the story is still unfolding, the relationships between organizations like Wikileaks and traditional media outlets are certain to carry serious implications for understanding how journalism operates. (For an excellent overview of that discussion see Yochai Benkler’s A Free Irresponsible Press: Wikileaks and the Battle over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate). As Glenn Greenwald remarked today, “WikiLeaks has generated more newsworthy scoops over the last year than all media outlets combined.”


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