David Leigh, executive editor at The Guardian, appeared on Democracy Now to discuss the lax criteria used by the U.S. to decide who should be imprisoned at Guantanamo. Here are a few excerpts:
Mohammed Basardah . . . [is a] Yemeni who was captured on the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was apparently trying to flee after the U.S. invasion and the fighting in the Tora Bora Mountains. Since he’s been in there, in Guantánamo, he’s won his freedom by apparently denouncing or implicating at least 123 of his co-prisoners. That’s an extraordinary number, and of course it does raise the question whether he has not been exaggerating.
. . .
The most saddening thing was the descriptions of completely innocent old men and young boys who were shipped off to Guantánamo for no very good reason, except they were rounded up in a dragnet. There’s an 89-year-old Afghan villager, who was picked up merely because there was a list of suspicious phone numbers in a satellite phone found near his compound, shipped off to Guantánamo, where they discover he’s not only very, very old and doesn’t know anything, but he’s also suffering from dementia and probably can’t even remember what day of the week it is.
Similarly, a 14-year-old boy, turned out, when he arrived there, to in fact have been kidnapped by pro-Taliban tribesmen and left holding a rifle while they fled around him. Even the Guantánamo commander at the time, Major General Geoffrey Miller, who’s a fairly controversial and rigorous figure, shall we say, who later went to the Abu Ghraib prison, even he wrote a memo and signed it, saying, “We don’t know why this boy is here. He really has to be got out of here and sent back to a normal environment, because he just—it’s completely wrong that he should be in Guantánamo.” You see innocent people being rounded up, shipped off, stuck there, sometimes for years.
. . .
AMY GOODMAN: One of the prisoners discussed in the documents released by WikiLeaks was Sami al-Hajj, who was working as an Al Jazeera cameraman when he was arrested in late 2001 and sent to Guantánamo, held for more than six years. It was a case we covered extensively. Now, we talked about this yesterday, as well, with Andy Worthington, but today we have a clip of Sami al-Hajj himself, now out, working with Al Jazeera, and he’s speaking with Al Jazeera’s Nick Clark about his experience at Guantánamo.
SAMI AL-HAJJ: [translated] Through the interrogations, I realized that the charge brought against me was filming or recording an interview with Osama bin Laden. This is what I understood from the interrogator. I replied to them that I did not carry out this mission, as I was covering Kandahar, and if I had done such an interview, it is part of my job: journalism.
NICK CLARK: And so, and what happened after that? So, all the time that you were there, you weren’t ever given any further instruction as to why you were being held?
SAMI AL-HAJJ: [translated] At that point, when they realized that I am a journalist, and they verified my passport on me and other journalistic ID, they told me that “You are the man wrongly detained.” However, I saw many things which should not be seen. That’s why I was kept there for a longer time. After that, most of the interrogations were centered on Al Jazeera channel, who is running the affairs and how is Al Jazeera linked to al-Qaeda and how al-Qaeda tapes reach Al Jazeera, etc. Most of the interrogations and investigations wished me to say that there is a link between Al Jazeera and al-Qaeda.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is a remarkable story, David Leigh, where a lot of what these documents are saying about Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman, is he was being held to question him about the Al Jazeera leadership and satellites and telecommunications and the filming of Osama bin Laden and other issues?
DAVID LEIGH: We all know that the United States and the Bush administration were pretty obsessed with Al Jazeera, and they were pretty furious at the kind of coverage that Al Jazeera was giving, which they couldn’t control. This is the first time we’ve seen hard documentation that they were basically abducting an Al Jazeera employee, merely in order to pump him for intelligence about what Al Jazeera was up to and how they got an interview with Osama bin Laden. I think anybody in a media organization across the world is going to be horrified at the thought that the U.S. military could abduct their employees just to do this kind of thing.
But there is even more. Consider the continuing hypocrisy noted by Greg Mitchell at The Nation:
Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic hails NYT coverage of Gitmo files, slams Assange and WikiLeaks (who made it all possible). And more upset that false charges in files could hurt prosecutions — not that false charges led to people jailed for years.
In the meantime Glenn Greenwald reports that the Alexandria Virginia Grand Jury is considering charges against Wikileaks and Julian Assange. According to Greenwald, they are looking at “possible violations of the Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. 793), a draconian 1917 law under which no non-government-employee has ever been convicted for disclosing classified information. “ Greenwald notes that the Obama DOJ is “strongly considering that possibility.”