Leaked Gitmo Files Reveal Prisoners’ Threat Level Based on Flawed Evidence

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Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A trove of more than 700 classified military documents about prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was released last night. The leaked files, called Detainee Assessment Briefs, were penned by military intelligence officials between February 2002 and January 2009. They analyze prisoners' intelligence values and whether they pose a threat to the U.S. if released. Based on the documents, it appears that at least 150 of the prisoners were found to be innocent, after being detained for years. In other cases, inmates were found to be more dangerous than publicly disclosed and terrorized again once released. That revelation will complicate President Obama's controversial plan to transfer detainees out of Gitmo — one of the roadblocks to the White House's failed attempts to close the prison. According to the New York Times, the "frightening, if flawed, intelligence" has convinced the Obama administration that the military prison will not be easily closed.

More than anything, the documents reveal how difficult and subjective it is to evaluate who the prisoners were, their past actions, and what they were capable of doing in the future. The assessments also appear to have gotten more cautious after it was discovered that released detainees joined Al Qaeda.

In the case of Said Mohammed Alam Shah, a 24-year-old Afghan who lost his leg as a teenager, interrogators believed his story that he had been conscripted into the Taliban trying to rescue his brothers, and they concluded that he didn't pose a threat. Only once he was sent back to Afghanistan in 2004 was it revealed that Said was actually a Pakistani-born militant named Abdullah Mehsud. He proceeded to record jihadist videos, organize a Taliban force to fight American troops, and plan an attack on Pakistan’s interior minister that killed 31 people, all before detonating a suicide bomb and being hailed as a martyr by Osama bin Laden.

In other cases — like the 150 Afghans or Pakistanis, including drivers, farmers, and chefs, who were rounded up as part of harried war-zone intelligence gathering — prisoners were found to be innocent but were detained for years. An Afghan named Sharbat, for example, was captured near a roadside-bomb explosion in May 2003 and was declared an "enemy combatant" despite his knowledge of herding animals and ignorance of “simple military and political concepts." He wasn't sent home until 2006.

Then there were the 100 Gitmo prisoners classified as having psychiatric illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which made them unsuitable for intelligence gathering. An Algerian prisoner named Abdul Rahman Houari, who suffered from a penetrating head trauma that caused psychosis and difficulty with speech and understanding, was held for four years, during which he made four suicide attempts.

According to the Guardian, British nationals and residents were held for years despite knowledge that they were not members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. In Jamal al-Harith's case, he was transferred to Gitmo, the paper says, "simply because he had been held in a Taliban prison and was thought to have knowledge of their interrogation techniques." The documents also reveal that U.S. authorities listed Pakistan's main intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), as a terrorist group alongside Al Qaeda, which is likely to strain relations with a key ally in the region. Thus far, the U.S. government has only responded that the release of the leaked documents was "unfortunate."

Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees [NYT]
Judging Detainees’ Risk, Often With Flawed Evidence [NYT]
Guantánamo leaks lift lid on world's most controversial prison [Guardian UK]
Guantánamo Bay files: Grim toll on mental health of prisoners [Guardian UK]
'Guantanamo files': Dozens held were innocent [Al Jazeera English]
Also In WikiLeaks Papers: Al-Qaida Leaders' Movements Following Sept. 11 [NPR]