A Blind Eye to Guantanamo?

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008

A CIA analyst warned the Bush administration in 2002 that up to a third of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake, but White House officials ignored the finding and insisted that all were "enemy combatants" subject to indefinite incarceration, according to a new book critical of the administration's terrorism policies.

The CIA assessment directly challenged the administration's claim that the detainees were all hardened terrorists -- the "worst of the worst," as then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the time. But a top aide to Vice President Cheney shrugged off the report and squashed proposals for a quick review of the detainees' cases, author Jane Mayer writes in "The Dark Side," scheduled for release next week.

"There will be no review," the book quotes Cheney staff director David Addington as saying. "The president has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants. We are not going to revisit it."

The reported exchange is one of dozens recounted by Mayer in a volume that describes how Cheney and his legal advisers pushed for policies on domestic wiretapping, detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mayer, who has written extensively about terrorist detention for New Yorker magazine, argues that the administration set the stage for the use of waterboarding and other controversial techniques with a series of legal memos that gave government agencies virtually unchecked power in waging war against terrorist groups.

"For the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment U.S.-held captives, making torture the official law of the land in all but name," she writes.

A spokeswoman for Cheney declined to comment, noting that the White House had not been provided a copy of Mayer's book. While the book officially goes on sale Tuesday, a copy was obtained in advance of release by The Washington Post. The New York Times reported some details of Mayer's findings in yesterday's editions.

The classified CIA report described by Mayer was prepared in the summer of 2002 by a senior CIA analyst who was invited to the prison camp in Cuba to help Defense Department officials grapple with a major problem: They were gleaning very little useful information from the roughly 600 detainees in custody at the time. After a study involving dozens of detainees, the analyst came up with an answer: A large fraction of them "had no connection with terrorism whatsoever," Mayer writes, citing officials familiar with the report. Many were essentially bystanders who had been swept up in dragnets or turned over to the U.S. military by bounty hunters. Previous published reports have described the CIA analyst's visit but have not provided details of its findings.

According to Mayer, the analyst estimated that a full third of the camp's detainees were there by mistake. When told of those findings, the top military commander at Guantanamo at the time, Major Gen. Michael Dunlavey, not only agreed with the assessment but suggested that an even higher percentage of detentions -- up to half -- were in error. Later, an academic study by Seton Hall University Law School concluded that 55 percent of detainees had never engaged in hostile acts against the United States, and only 8 percent had any association with al-Qaeda.

The CIA findings prompted a vigorous debate with the administration and prompted calls for a review of detainee cases. But "Addington's response was adamant and imperious. 'We are not second-guessing the President's decision. These are enemy combatants,' " Mayer wrote.

More than 200 detainees remain in the facility at Guantanamo Bay. One of them, Afghanistan national Mohammed Jawad, filed papers yesterday claiming that he suffered extensive health problems after being subjected to sleep deprivation for two weeks in 2004, the Associated Press reported. Jawad, through his lawyer, said he lost 10 percent of his body weight during the two weeks and also began urinating blood. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the allegations.

The book also offers new detail on the findings of officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross who investigated the CIA's treatment of suspected al-Qaeda leaders in secret prisons overseas. In 2007, the ICRC produced a secret report, based on extensive interviews with the detainees, and shared the document with the CIA and the White House. It was the first independent accounting of CIA detention practices, and the findings were never publicly released, in keeping with long-standing ICRC rules intended to ensure continued access to prison sites worldwide. ICRC declined to comment on the specifics of the report.

Mayer, citing officials familiar with the report, said the ICRC described the CIA's treatment of the detainees "categorically as torture." Citing the experience of one al-Qaeda captive, Abu Zubaida, it said CIA interrogators had repeatedly locked the man inside a box so small that he had to fold his limbs into a fetal position to fit. He and other detainees were kept naked for long periods of time and exposed to temperature extremes and long bouts of sleep deprivation. Mayer acknowledges that the detainees' accounts could not be independently confirmed.

A CIA spokesman, George Little, declined to comment on the account but sharply differed with Mayer's conclusions about the agency's treatment of detainees.

"The ICRC was granted access to terrorist detainees at Guantanamo and heard their claims," Little said. "The fact of the matter remains that the program was established in accordance with detailed, measured guidance from the Department of Justice, and the interrogation methods used to question detainees have been lawful, safe and effective. The program has yielded valuable information that has helped the United States and other countries save lives and disrupt terrorist operations."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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