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- Published on Amazon.com
Andy Worthington's "The Guantanamo Files" is an invaluable resource to anyone who wants the truth about the "detainees" (i.e., prisoners) at GITMO, mostly straight from the horse's mouth (or, well, the government's anyway). Chapter after chapter he explodes the myth that these "hardened al Qaeda/Taliban fighters" were all captured on the battlefield and represent the "worst of the worst". Quite the opposite, in fact. Apparently the worst of the worst either managed to slip away or were let go by U.S. and coalition forces. It was mostly just poor unlucky saps that got caught up in the net of Arabs captured by Northern Alliance and Pakistani forces and sold to the U.S. for handsome bounties.
Worthington begins the book with an account of the "uprising" at Qala-i-Jangi. At first glance, it would be hard to argue that these prisoners were not captured "on the battlefield". However, Worthington does a remarkable job of bringing to light details that make it clear that this was no uprising of hardened jihadists determined to fight to the death, but rather a brutal betrayal and massacre of low level foreign fighters who had already surrendered on the belief that they would be disarmed and allowed to return to their country. The suicides and "riots" happened only after it became clear that the captors planned to kill the captives anyway. In response to the "riots", coalition forces bombed the fortress with daisy cluster bombs, poured oil into the basement where the captives were hiding out, and later tried to flood the basement. Of the 400+ bodies found in the aftermath, at least 200 had their hands tied behind their backs. The fact that 86 men survived this massacres is evidence, in the government's eyes, that they must be hardened fighters. Much like if a woman survived being held underwater during the Salem Witch Trials, it was "proof" that she must be a witch.
From there Worthington goes on to list, in almost mind-numbing detail, the capture of various ethnic and other groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere at different time periods. Most of these men were captured in mosques, guest houses ("safe houses" in government lingo), at their homes or homes of friends, family or strangers, and even in hospitals - all far from any "battlefield", no matter how liberally the word is construed. Worthington details the government's allegations against these men and compares them to their own stories. Many claim to be humanitarian workers, teachers or merchants, yet the government has never made any attempt tofollow up any possible evidence for or against these men. Often Worthington lays out the most egregious examples of government absurdities and overreaching.
Worthington also details the conditions at some of the prisons and camps (many secret) to which these men were initally taken, the brutal treatment they received along the way, as well as the sheer confusion among U.S. forces as to who these men even were. Interrogation and screening mechanisms were so chaotic that efforts to determine who should be released and who should be shipped to Gitmo were almost haphazard. By the time they arrived in Gitmo, they were a motley collection of conscripted cooks and foot soldiers mixed with humanitarian workers, taxi drivers and even teenagers. Few if any high-ranking al Qaeda or Taliban members were among the mix.
Finally, Worthington explores the situation at GITMO itself, including the legal challenges, the hunger strikes and the suicide attempts (as well as the three successful "suicides", which the evidence now indicates may have been murder). He explodes the myths that GITMO is some kind of "terrorist resort" where the prisoners are eating racks of lamb while having their feet massaged. He relates testimony after testimony of abuse and degradation suffered by the prisoners, including an in-depth look at the torture of Mohammed al Qahtani.
Worthington was one of the first to do in-depth research based on the government's own documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. More and more evidence is coming out that supports Worthington's early conclusions: the unlawful indefinite detention under harsh conditions of so-called "enemy combatants" at GITMO without allowance for them to prove their innocence is a blot on America's human rights records. If there is further evidence that these men really are the "worst of the worst", the government should release it. But from the evidence so far, most of the prisoners at Gitmo appear to be, in Biblical terms, the "least of the least".