In Part One of this article, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison, examined Dick Cheney's recent interview with ABC News, in which the Vice President presented a detailed defense of the administration's national security policies, throwing down a very public gauntlet to critics of torture, Guantánamo, illegal wiretapping and the invasion of Iraq. Part One focused on Cheney's lies regarding the use of torture and the implementation of warrantless wiretapping, and this second part examines his lies regarding Guantánamo and the invasion of Iraq.
5) On the prisoners in Guantánamo
When Jonathan Karl mentioned that President Bush had said that he wanted to close Guantánamo two years ago, and asked, "Why has that not happened?" Cheney said, "It's very hard to do. Guantánamo has been the repository, if you will, of hundreds of terrorists, or suspected terrorists, that we've captured since 9/11. They -- many of them, hundreds, have been released back to their home countries. What we have left is the hardcore. Their cases are reviewed on an annual basis to see whether or not they're still a threat, whether or not they're still intelligence value in terms of continuing to hold them. But -- and we're down now to some 200 being held at Guantánamo -- that includes the core group, the really high-value targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
THE LIE: Cheney's description of the remaining prisoners as "the hardcore" is typical, but by no means accurate, as the Vice President has always claimed that those in Guantánamo are "the hardcore" or "the worst of the worst." Just two weeks after Guantánamo opened, on January 27, 2002, he told Fox News, "These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort." And last July, on CNN, he said, "I think you need to have someplace to hold those individuals who have been captured during the global war on terror. I'm thinking of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ... There are hundreds of people like that, and if you closed Guantánamo, you'd have to find someplace else to put these folks."
Given that around 80 prisoners have been released since Cheney made this last pronouncement, it's clear that his talk of "hardcore" prisoners is a repeated lie, adjusted according to how many prisoners are actually held at Guantánamo.
In addition, Cheney's unsubstantiated claim about the remaining prisoners ignores the fact that, as I explained at length in The Guantánamo Files, and have repeatedly described in articles (most recently here), the majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo were captured not by US forces, but by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, at a time when the US military was offering substantial bounty payments for "al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects." Moreover, they have never been screened adequately to determine whether they should have been declared as "enemy combatants" -- not on capture (when they should have received Article 5 battlefield tribunals, according to the Geneva Conventions), not in the prisons in Afghanistan that were used to process them for Guantánamo (where the orders were that every Arab was to be sent to Cuba), and not in Guantánamo itself. The tribunals established to review the status of the prisoners in Guantánamo relied almost exclusively on woefully generic information, and on confessions obtained through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners. As former insider Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham has eloquently explained, the entire process was designed not to provide justice, but to defend the administration's blanket assertions that the prisoners were "enemy combatants."
6) On the prisoners' rights
Cheney continued, "Now, the question, if you're going to close Guantánamo, what are you going to do with those prisoners? One suggestion is, well, we'll bring them to the United States. Well, I don't know very many congressmen, for example, who are eager to have 200 al-Qaeda terrorists deposited in their district. It's a complex and difficult problem. If you bring them onshore into the United States, they automatically acquire certain legal rights and responsibilities that the government would then have, that they don't as long as they're at Guantánamo. And that's an important consideration.
THE LIE: In this statement, Cheney's lie, which reveals his disdain for the Supreme Court, is his claim that, as long as the prisoners are in Guantánamo, they don't have "certain legal rights." As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the pretence that Guantánamo was beyond the reach of US law, and that the prisoners could be held without rights, was demolished in June 2004, when the highest court in the land ruled in Rasul v. Bush that Guantánamo was "territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control," and that, because the prisoners denied that they had "engaged in or plotted acts of aggression against this country," and had "never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing," they had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to challenge the basis of their detention before an impartial judge.
The administration then persuaded Congress to remove these rights in two appalling pieces of legislation -- the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 -- but the Supreme Court restored their habeas corpus rights in another landmark case in June 2008, Boumediene v. Bush, and made sure that Cheney could not persuade Congress to remove them again by ruling that this time their rights were constitutional.
The prisoners have therefore had "certain legal rights" since June 2004, although it is clear that Cheney still does not regard Supreme Court rulings as having any impact on the President's whims as the Commander-in-Chief of a self-declared war without end.
7) On conditions at Guantánamo
Next, Cheney said, "These are not American citizens. They are not subject, nor do they have the same rights that an American citizen does vis-à-vis the government. But they are well treated."
THE LIE: It is hard to conceive of a manner in which the prisoners at Guantánamo are "well treated." A dedicated PR machine has attempted to make out that they are all coddled and well-fed, but the truth is that, unlike convicted criminals on the US mainland, who watch TV, have opportunities to socialize, receive family visits and have regular access to reading and writing materials, the prisoners in Guantánamo -- who have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted -- are deprived of almost all "comfort items" to relieve the crushing monotony of their daily lives and the desperate uncertainty of their fate. They have, for example, never received a single visit from their loved ones, they are still hurled into isolation cells or beaten by armored response teams for the slightest infraction of the rules, and if they protest their seemingly endless imprisonment without charge or trial by embarking on hunger strikes, they are force-fed in the most brutal manner, even though force-feeding competent prisoners is illegal.
8) On the Military Commissions at Guantánamo
Cheney continued, "They also have the opportunity, and the process has just started now to be heard before a military commission with a judgment, fair and honest judgment made about their guilt or innocence, to be represented by counsel provided through that process."
THE LIE: I have covered the Military Commissions in depth over the last year and a half, and at no point has it ever been demonstrated that the system dreamt up by Cheney and Addington in November 2001 is "fair and honest." Every defense attorney appointed by the government has risked his or her career by openly criticizing the system, and several prosecutors have resigned in protest at what they regarded as a rigged system, the most significant being Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor, who complained of political interference, and Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who complained that evidence vital to the defense was routinely withheld. Both stories were covered in detail in my article, "The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials."
Other problems include the fact that two prisoners who were juveniles when seized (Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad) have been put forward for trials, despite the fact that no juvenile has been put forward for a war crimes trial since the Second World War, and despite claims that the allegations against them are rigged, and several insignificant Afghan prisoners have also been charged. Moreover, the prisoners regarded as particularly significant (the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, for example) have been allowed to make a mockery of the system, and on the eve of the Presidential election, a man named Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his association with al-Qaeda, even though he refused to mount a defense. In the rest of the world, that would be referred to as a show trial.
9) On the alleged recidivism of released prisoners
Cheney was asked about the danger of closing Guantánamo "too soon," shortly after the following disturbing exchange took place:
Jonathan Karl: So when do you think we'll be at a point where Guantánamo could be responsibly shut down?
Dick Cheney: Well, I think that would come with the end of the war on terror.
Jonathan Karl: When's that going to be?
Dick Cheney: Well, nobody knows. Nobody can specify that.
Jonathan Karl: But basically it sounds like you're saying Guantánamo Bay will be open indefinitely.
Cheney said, "Well, if you release people that shouldn't have been released, and that's happened in some cases already, you end up with them back on the battlefield. We've had, as I recall now -- and these are rough numbers, I'd want to check it -- but, say, approximately 30 of these folks who've been held in Guantánamo, been released, and ended up back on the battlefield again, and we've encountered them a second time around. They've either been killed or captured in further conflicts with our forces."
THE LIE: The claim that 30 former prisoners "ended up back on the battlefield" is a staple of Pentagon propaganda, even though it has never been backed up with evidence. Instead, as the Seton Hall Law School noted in a report last December (PDF), the Pentagon regarded speaking out about Guantánamo as "returning to the battlefield" (as in the case of three Britons, Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, who were involved in a film about their experiences, The Road to Guantánamo).
The Pentagon has also conveniently ignored the fact that at least six Taliban fighters were released because the US authorities had refused to consult with their Afghan allies. In 2004, officials in Hamid Karzai's government blamed the US for the return of Taliban commanders to the battlefield, explaining that "neither the American military officials, nor the Kabul police, who briefly process the detainees when they are sent home, consult them about the detainees they free."
The true number of prisoners who have "returned to the battlefield" is certainly less than the number quoted by the Pentagon -- and by Dick Cheney -- although it should also be noted that, even if it were correct, a recidivism rate of 6 percent is considerably lower than in any other US prison, and indicates, of course, that a large number of those released were not terrorists or militants in the first place.
10) On the reason for invading Iraq
Turning to Iraq, Jonathan Karl said, "You probably saw -- Karl Rove last week said that if the intelligence had been correct, we probably would not have gone to war," and Cheney responded, "I disagree with that. I think the -- as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What we found in the after-action reports after the intelligence report was done and then various special groups went and looked at the intelligence and what its validity was, what they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feedstocks. They also found that he had every intention of resuming production once the international sanctions were lifted."
THE LIE: Brazen to the end, Cheney has clung to the WMD deception as though it had ever been anything other than an excuse for regime change following the illegal invasion of a sovereign country, driven by a deranged desire to gain geopolitical supremacy and establish an ill-defined facsimile of the American political and economic system in the heart of the Middle East.
No one credible agrees with Cheney's assessment of Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities -- or his intentions -- and in addition, of course, Cheney has a colourful and reprehensible record of bullying the intelligence agencies into finding reasons to invade Iraq, and promoting the fiction that Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain "yellowcake" uranium ore from Niger.
Moreover, two of Cheney's particular enthusiasms -- the torture of prisoners, and the invasion of Iraq -- came together when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan (which had little connection with al-Qaeda) was captured and sent to Egypt to be tortured, where he made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted his confession, but not until Secretary of State Colin Powell -- to his eternal shame -- has used the story in February 2003 in an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.
This, of course, is disturbing enough, but as David Rose explained in an article in Vanity Fair that coincided with Cheney's recent ABC News interview, al-Libi was not the only torture victim spouting nonsense about Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
According to two senior intelligence analysts, Abu Zubaydah, the facilitator for the Khaldan camp, who, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to torture -- including waterboarding -- also made a number of false confessions about connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, beyond one ludicrous claim which was subsequently leaked by the administration: that Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were working with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. One of the analysts, who worked at the Pentagon, explained, "The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be."
However, none of the analysts knew that these confessions had been obtained through torture. The Pentagon analyst told David Rose, "As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq." He added, "It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective."
This is the end, for now, of my tour through the dark, unjust and counter-productive world fashioned by Dick Cheney and his colleagues and close advisers in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but I hope -- as disturbing rumors begin to swirl -- that it serves to confirm how a Presidential pardon for the Vice President would, effectively, be an endorsement for some of the cruellest manfestations of unfettered executive power and disdain for the rule of law that the United States has ever experienced.