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2008-06-19

McClatchy Interviews 66 Fmr. Prisoners Held by US, Finds Widespread Abuse and Wrongful Imprisonments

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McClatchy Newspapers has conducted an extensive eight-month investigation of the US detention system created after 9/11. Based on interviews with sixty-six former prisoners, the investigation found that the US imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay into a school for jihad. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: McClatchy Newspapers has conducted an extensive eight-month investigation of the US detention system created after 9/11. Based on interviews with sixty-six former prisoners, the investigation found that the US imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay into a school for jihad.

The online series, “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law,” includes extensive information of each prisoner, complete with accompanying officials documents, pictures and video.

    NARRATOR: The project began with the simple question: what really happened at Guantanamo?

    ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF: We wanted the world to know. We wanted the world community to know what happened at Guantanamo.

    NARRATOR: To start to find an answer, we set out to interview as many former detainees as possible, traveling to cafes in Germany, a refugee center in Albania, a mosque in Jordan, the narrow side streets of Karachi, and the dusty and at times dangerous cities and hamlets of Afghanistan.

    The men were often difficult to find and, even after we sat down with them, were hesitant to talk because of worries of retribution from their government or militants. We looked through thousands of pages of unclassified US military tribunal transcripts from Guantanamo and military court-martial documents. We spoke with a large number of former Bush administration and defense officials in Washington and elsewhere.

    The picture that emerged was complex. Many of the detainees, particularly those from Afghanistan, had no connection with international terrorism or any groups that pose a threat to the security of the United States, according to interviews with intelligence, security and political officials in their home countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Gutman is foreign editor at McClatchy, who oversaw the series, "Guantanamo: Beyond the Law," joining us from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the scope of your work and the prisoners you interviewed.

ROY GUTMAN: Well, Amy, we intended actually to find as many of the former detainees as possible within a reasonable period of time, and it was a huge effort. As many as five reporters were involved at first. And it was very hard to, as that excerpt you just now played illustrated, even to get people who have been traumatized, who are embittered, who are angry, to even talk to our reporters.

But after a while we figured out a way. We set up a questionnaire. We asked them to chart the stages of their detention. We asked them to describe what happened at each stage. Was there abuse? What kind of questioning went on?

And we came up with a picture that was — quite frankly, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to find, because how could you? — that was still nevertheless quite surprising. Of the sixty-six men that our reporters interviewed, for example, seven of them — and these were I think almost all Afghans — had not only nothing to do with al-Qaeda or with any kind of terror organization, but in fact they were working for the Afghan government, which is pro-US and which is supported by the United States. They were completely the wrong men.

Of the sixty-six, maybe thirty-four of them, about half, had been involved in some military capacity during either the period before 9/11 or after 9/11, but these were fairly — almost all of those, two-thirds of those, were low-level at best, you know, grunts, guys in the trenches, not anybody senior. And, in fact, there might have been — I know of the sixty-six, maybe about six or seven of them did have some links with either the al-Qaeda or the senior Taliban officials or were somehow involved with them. But that’s, you know, only about ten percent.

And so, what was so striking altogether was the number of people, more than half or at least half, who had nothing at all to do with even the fighting. Many of them were picked up — you know, only a third of the people we talked to were even picked up at the time of 9/11. The others were scooped up later. They were — it’s incredible to realize how many of the wrong men we were holding.

And then, once you have the wrong men, what do you do with them? I think one of the reasons that torture was devised and all of these methods that your other guests have described is that if you have the wrong men, you’re not going to get very good information out of them, and you may have to — somebody or other thought that they should beat them.

You know, at the essence of our report and I think the essence of all of the discussions this morning is the fact that the administration essentially threw out the law. They threw out the Geneva Conventions. They decided they did not apply to these people, even though they probably and almost certainly did. And once you throw out the law, you throw out the ability to differentiate between combatants, unlawful combatants, and terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: Your website includes video of a number of the former prisoners McClatchy interviewed for the series. Amir Jan Ghorzang was an anti-Taliban fighter who was freed in 2001, US invasion of Afghanistan. He became a sergeant in the Afghan forces, but after his arrest was accused of planting bombs and sent to Guantanamo.

    AMIR JAN GHORZANG: [translated] I was a soldier for Haji Qadir, and we were fighting against the Taliban. We were captured and jailed in Kandahar for five years. When the Taliban fell and the Americans came, all the jails were liberated, and people were freed and went home. In the new government, I was an officer in the military brigade 744. Someone gave the wrong information about me, and they blamed me without any reason. I was innocent. I was handed over to the Americans, and they took me to Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Amir Jan Ghorzang. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah. He mentioned being held for five years. On average, how long were these people imprisoned by US officials?

ROY GUTMAN: Well, I can’t actually give you the figure, but it was between three and five years. It’s interesting — I mean, they were all released without charges. In fact, you know, of the 770 men held at Guantanamo, 500 have now been released. At the very most, I think they will be attempting to prosecute seventy or eighty of them. But as a matter of fact, of the 770, they’ve only preferred charges — I think it’s against six so far. This is less than one percent. It’s staggering. And this is after six years.

AMY GOODMAN: Haji Galib Hasan was expelled by the Taliban. Returning to Afghanistan, he worked for the Interior Ministry until he was arrested by US soldiers on the charge of supporting the Taliban.

    HAJI GALIB HASAN: [translated] I told them when they arrested me that I was the active police chief of the Ghanikhil district. Before that, we captured several districts, from Torkham to Jalalabad, away from the Taliban. When they arrested me, I was in my uniform, but they tore it off and brought me to the airport. They were beating me. Four guys were standing around me and punching and kicking me from all directions. Then they would bring a bucket of water and tie me to a cot. They would turn the cot over and dunk my head into the pail of water. They would keep dunking my head underwater for fifteen to twenty minutes. This American commander was watching. They were asking me to confess that I had links to al-Qaeda. I told them, “No, I’m against al-Qaeda. I have fought against them. Someone has given you the wrong information.”

AMY GOODMAN: Haji Galib Hasan in the series of interviews done by McClatchy Newspapers. They interviewed over sixty former prisoners in an eight-month investigation. Roy Gutman, you’ve called Guantanamo a school for jihad for the innocents who are there who get radicalized.

ROY GUTMAN: Yes, in fact, we have one case — and this is the kind of serendipity that happens when you launch a massive project like this one. Tom Lasseter, our reporter who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, found one man who had been sort of a small-time thug in Zormat province and who — and he was almost certainly wrongly arrested, unnecessarily arrested and seized, and then beaten on the way to Guantanamo. And when he got to Guantanamo, the various imams and radicals who were there worked on him, and he came out far more radical. In fact, he was one of the most wanted men after he was released. He became a target for the Americans. You know, at Guantanamo —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

ROY GUTMAN: Sure. Anyway, there was a shura, they issued fatwas. There was like a cell, an al-Qaeda cell at Guantanamo. And we have that from one of the commanders of Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Gutman, we’ll leave it there, of McClatchy Newspapers.

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