!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Profile: Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was a participant or observer in the following events:

An aerial shot of Camp X-Ray.An aerial shot of Camp X-Ray. [Source: Public domain]The US prison camp at Guantanamo receives its first 20 prisoners from the Afghan battlefield. [Reuters, 1/11/2002] The prisoners are flown on a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane, escorted during the final leg of the journey by a Navy assault helicopter and a naval patrol boat. The prisoners, hooded, shackled, wearing blackout goggles and orange jumpsuits, and possibly drugged, are escorted one by one off the plane by scores of Marines in full battle gear. They are interred in what reporter Charlie Savage will later call “kennel-like outdoor cages” in the makeshift containment facility dubbed Camp X-Ray. [Guardian, 1/11/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Leaked Photos of Transfer Cause International Outcry - Pictures of prisoners being transferred in conditions clearly in violation of international law are later leaked, prompting an outcry. But rather than investigating the inhumane transfer, the Pentagon will begin investigating how the pictures were leaked. [Associated Press, 11/9/2002]
Guantanamo Chosen to Keep Prisoners out of US Jurisdiction - The prisoners are sent to this base—leased by Cuba to the US—because it is on foreign territory and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of US law (see December 28, 2001). [Globe and Mail, 9/5/2002] It was once a coaling station used by the US Navy, and in recent years had been used by Coast Guard helicopters searching for drug runners and refugees trying to make it across the Florida Straits to US soil. In 1998, the Clinton administration had briefly considered and then rejected a plan to bring some prisoners from Kosovo to Guantanamo. Guantanamo was chosen as an interim prison for Afghanis who survived the uprising at Mazar-e Sharif prison (see 11:25 a.m. November 25, 2001) by an interagency working group (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001), who considered and rejected facilities in Germany and other European countries. Group leader Pierre-Richard Prosper will later recall: “We looked at our military bases in Europe and ruled that out because (a), we’d have to get approval from a European government, and (b), we’d have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights and we didn’t know how they’d react. We didn’t want to lose control over it and have it become a European process because it was on European soil. And so we kept looking around and around, and basically someone said, ‘What about Guantanamo?’” The base may well have not been the final choice of Prosper’s group; it was still researching a Clinton-era attempt to house Haitian and Cuban refugees there that had been challenged in court when Rumsfeld unilaterally made the decision to begin transferring prisoners to the naval base. [Savage, 2007, pp. 143-144]
No Geneva Convention Strictures Apply to 'Unlawful Combatants' - Rumsfeld, acting on the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, publicly declares the detainees “unlawful combatants” and thereby not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Conventions. “Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention,” Rumsfeld says. Though, according to Rumsfeld, the government will “for the most part treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent they are appropriate.” [Reuters, 1/11/2002] There is no reason to feel sorry for these detainees, says Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He states, “These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 to bring it down.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
British Officials: 'Scandalous' - Senior British officials privately call the treatment of prisoners “scandalous,” and one calls the refusal to follow the Geneva Convention “not benchmarks of a civilized society.” [Guardian, 6/13/2002]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United States, US Department of Defense, Pierre-Richard Prosper, Richard B. Myers, Clinton administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Charlie Savage, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Camp X-Ray prisoners. They wear sensory deprivation masks.
Camp X-Ray prisoners. They wear sensory deprivation masks. [Source: US Navy]Four detainees are freed from Guantanamo Bay, the first of the 600 or so detainees there to be released. The four, mostly elderly Afghan men, are released because they were determined not to be involved in al-Qaeda and posed no security threat. [BBC, 10/29/2002] 19 more will be released in March 2003. [BBC, 3/24/2003] The detainees are supposedly being kept there to be interrogated about what they know of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But it is reported that virtually none of the prisoners in Guantanamo have any useful information. One US official says, “[Guantanamo] is a dead end” for fresh intelligence information. According to the Washington Post, “Officials realize many of them had little intelligence value to begin with.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2002] US officials privately concede that “perhaps as many as 100 other captives” are innocent of any connections to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but most of these still have not been released. Furthermore, not a single detainee has been brought before a US military tribunal. Apparently this is to hide “a sorry fact: the US mostly netted Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters of only low to middling importance, bagging few of the real bad guys.” [Time, 10/27/2002] At least 59 were deemed to have no intelligence even before being sent to Cuba, but were nonetheless sent there, apparently because of bureaucratic inertia. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Noor Uthman Muhammed, a detainee being held at Guantanamo, disputes many of the allegations made against him at a combatant status review tribunal hearing to determine if he is an enemy combatant. Muhammed admits receiving and giving military training at Khalden Camp in Afghanistan, buying food for the camp, and being captured with training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). However, he contests many of the charges, and he denies:
bullet Handling one of the weapons he is accused of using, the Zukair anti-aircraft weapon, which he says he has never heard of;
bullet Procuring a fax machine for Osama bin Laden. He did attempt to buy a piece of similar equipment, but the deal did not go through and the equipment was for himself, not bin Laden, who he has never met;
bullet Being assisted in his escape from Afghanistan by a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant. When he asks for the lieutenant’s name, the military officials are unable to provide it;
bullet Having a Somali passport;
bullet Being associated with al-Qaeda. He comments: “I have no knowledge of al-Qaeda, and I don’t know anybody from there. But if you want to say that I’m Muslim and want to make-believe I belong to al-Qaeda, then that is something different”;
bullet Being associated with the Taliban. He comments: “I don’t know anything about the Taliban. I never carried arms with them.” [US Department of Defense, 2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Noor Uthman Muhammed, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, releases some files on about 750 prisoners held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. This covers all but about 15 of the prisoners who have passed through the prison since it opened in early 2002 (see January 11, 2002). Nearly all of the prisoners were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or associated Islamist militant groups. The files were written by US military intelligence officials between the prison’s opening and January 2009. They contain assessments on whether each prisoner should remain in US custody, be imprisoned by another country, or be set free. Most of the prisoners have been released over the years, and no new prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2007, but 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo in April 2011. Seven news organizations—the New York Times, The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and NPR (National Public Radio)—were given early access to the files by WikiLeaks in order to vet and analyze them. Their publication was sped up when the New York Times prepared to publish them after claiming to get copies of them from another unnamed source. The Obama administration immediately condemns the publication of the classified information in the files. [New York Times, 4/24/2011; New Yorker, 4/25/2011]
Files Often Contain Dubious Evidence - Journalists who analyze the files question the accuracy of their prisoner assessments. The New York Times comments that the files “show that the United States has imprisoned hundreds of men for years without trial based on a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past, and what they might do in the future.” Furthermore, the files “reveal that the analysts sometimes ignored serious flaws in the evidence—for example, that the information came from other detainees whose mental illness made them unreliable. Some assessments quote witnesses who say they saw a detainee at a camp run by al-Qaeda but omit the witnesses’ record of falsehood or misidentification. They include detainees’ admissions without acknowledging other government documents that show the statements were later withdrawn, often attributed to abusive treatment or torture.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] The Guardian comments that Guantanamo has been “a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of [prisoners who were] the bad, the accidental, and the irrelevant.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011] McClatchy Newspapers comments: “The world may have thought the US was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11. But [the files] not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo ‘quite simply a mess.’”
Files Dependant on Dubious Informants - McClatchy further claims that the files were “tremendously dependant on informants—both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al-Qaeda insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.” The information in the files is based on other sources, including intelligence documents and some confessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011] The New York Times similarly comments that “Guantanamo emerges from the documents as a nest of informants, a closed world where detainees were the main source of allegations against one another and sudden recollections of having spotted a fellow prisoner at an al-Qaeda training camp could curry favor with interrogators.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Files Also Based on Torture and Legally Questionable Methods - The files rarely mention the abuse and torture scandals concerning treatment of US prisoners in Guantanamo, in secret CIA prisons, in other overseas US-run prisons, and in prisons run by some US allies where the use of torture was more widespread. However, there are hints. For instance, one file on an Australian man sent to Guantanamo in 2002 mentions that he confessed while “under extreme duress” and “in the custody of the Egyptian government” to training six of the 9/11 hijackers in martial arts. But despite the apparent seriousness of this accusation, he was released in early 2005. Additionally, important prisoners such as Abu Zubaida held in secret CIA prisons were shown photos of Guantanamo prisoners and asked about them around the time they were subjected to waterboarding and other torture methods. The interrogations of Zubaida, who was waterboarded many times (see May 2003), are cited in over 100 prisoner files. However, his accusations against others have been systematically removed from government filings in court cases in recent years, which would indicate that officials are increasingly doubtful about his reliability and/or the legality of his tortured confessions. Also, many foreign officials were allowed to interrogate some prisoners in Guantanamo, including officials from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tajikistan. Information in some files comes from these legally questionable interrogation sessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] One well-known case of torture involved Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker (see December 2001). While being held in Guantanamo, he was interrogated for months with techniques that the senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trial later said legally met the definition of torture (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). His file says, “Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention,” his confessions “appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.” Claims al-Khatani made regarding 16 other Guantanamo prisoners are mentioned in their files without any caveats about the interrogation methods used on him. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Some Prisoners Unjustly Held - Some prisoners appear to be clearly innocent, and yet they often were held for years before being released. Some prisoners are still being held even though their files indicate that their interrogators are not even sure of their identities. In some cases, prisoners were held for years not because they were suspected of any crime, but because it was thought they knew useful information. For instance, files show one prisoner was sent to Guantanamo because of what he knew about the secret service of Uzbekistan. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] In a cruel twist of fate, one man, Jamal al-Harith, appears to have been imprisoned mainly because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban. His file states, “He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Prisoner Releases Based More on Luck than Evidence - The New York Times claims the determination of which prisoners were released has mostly been a “lottery” that was largely based on which country the prisoner came from. “Most European inmates were sent home, despite grave qualms on the analysts’ part. Saudis went home, even some of the most militant, to enter the rehabilitation program; some would graduate and then join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenis have generally stayed put, even those cleared for release, because of the chaos in their country. Even in clearly mistaken arrests, release could be slow.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] In 2009, the new Obama administration put together a task force that re-evaluated the 240 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo. However, these more recent assessments remain secret. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]

Entity Tags: WikiLeaks, Jamal al-Harith, US Military, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Mohamed al-Khatani, Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike