Guantánamo is an insult to human civilisation — and American values — but it has survived as a prison for nearly a decade largely because successive U.S. administrations have peddled the myth that its cell blocks are a vital frontline in the global war against terror. So dangerous are the men ‘Gitmo' holds, it is claimed, that they can never be safely released from captivity or even afforded the protections of an open and transparent judicial process. This myth has now been exploded by the release and publication of more than 700 official Pentagon documents by WikiLeaks. The documents lay bare what U.S. military interrogators knew about the men they were holding. And though they do not tell us much about the interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo or the other prisons to which many were initially “rendered,” the files provide a damning insight into a chaotic and dysfunctional system that swept up individuals with no connection to al-Qaeda or terrorism and held them for months and even years at a stretch despite their innocence being apparent after a few weeks of detention. Of the 600-odd prisoners released since 2002, some turned out to have been press-ganged by the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the chaotic days following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, while others were framed by unreliable bounty-hunters.
Above all, the documents establish the ineffectiveness of the Guantánamo method as a means of fighting terror. Terrorism may be a special crime that requires special investigative tools but what the latest files reveal is the ad hoc and even experimental nature of the interrogation enterprise in which U.S. military personnel simply made up the rules as they went along. And the inefficiencies cut both ways: innocent men — including one Afghan as old as 89 — and children as young as 14 languished for long periods while potentially dangerous individuals, such as Abu Sufian Qumu of the al-Qaeda, were released. Qumu is now said to be leading a section of the Nato-backed rebels fighting against the Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. Another interesting aspect of the documents is the place accorded to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in the 2007 Joint Task Force Guantánamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants. Any link to the ISI or al-Qaida, Hamas, or Hizbollah, the document notes, should be considered an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity. This assessment points to the single biggest flaw in the U.S. approach to terrorism. When it is clear at the operational level that the problem lies in Pakistan and its ISI, facilities such as Guantánamo are, at best, a lawless, witch-doctorish attempt to treat the symptom without going after the root cause of the disease. In reality, we know Gitmo doesn't even treat the symptom. It corrodes the very attributes of human civilisation that the terrorists wish to destroy. There can be no substitute for due process and the rule of law, even for men accused of monstrous crimes. That is why Barack Obama once promised to shut the place down. The latest documents are a reminder of that unfulfilled promise. Bravo WikiLeaks.