[Ppnews] How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 3 12:34:52 EDT 2011

How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files



A week after 
<http://wikileaks.ch/gitmo/>WikiLeaks began 
releasing classified military files ­ known as 
Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) ­ relating to 
the majority of the 779 prisoners held at 
Guantánamo since the prison opened in January 
2002, I am reassured that the prison, its 
remaining inhabitants and its back story have 
reemerged so forcefully into the consciousness of 
the general public. Over the last few months, in 
particular, it had become apparent, to those of 
us who still cared about Guantánamo, that 
President Obama’s stated mission to close the 
ended ignominiously, and that the prison’s 
supporters in the US (particularly in 
judiciary) had won a resounding victory, closing 
off every avenue that might have led to the 
release of all but a few of the remaining 172 prisoners.

However, although it’s reassuring to see renewed 
interest in Guantánamo ­ and to see a decent 
amount of insightful reporting about the crimes 
and distortions of the Bush administration in the 
reporting of WikiLeaks’ media partners in the US 
and throughout Europe ­ I’m not yet persuaded 
that the release of these documents has caused 
significant enough ripples in the US to effect 
any kind of change to the existing policies.

This may not be possible ­ given 
current deplorable state of US politics, and 
New York 
damaging introduction to its own unofficial 
release of the WikiLeaks documents last week ­ 
and it may be, as I have been suggesting all 
year, that the only answer to the appalling 
inertia regarding Guantánamo is for the 
international community, including the UN, to 
reassert the kind of criticism to which George W. 
Bush was particularly subjected in his second term in office.

With more articles by WikiLeaks’ media partners 
to be published in the weeks to come, and with my 
own detailed analyses of some of the documents 
also forthcoming, the story is far from over, but 
for now, as I continue to release 
to interviews in which I discuss the importance 
of the released documents ­ and the particular 
importance of recognizing that the supposed 
intelligence in the files is in fact thoroughly 
infected with 
unreliable testimony of tortured, coerced and 
bribed prisoners ­ I’m posting below 
<http://wikileaks.ch/gitmo/>the notes I wrote for 
WikiLeaks explaining how to read and understand 
the different sections in the documents, and also 
the introductions I wrote for a handful of 
briefing documents that were also made available last week by WikiLeaks.

Of particular interest, I hope, is my 
observation, under “5. Capture Information,” that 
the “Reasons for Transfer” included in the 
documents, which have been repeatedly cited by 
media outlets as an explanation of why the 
prisoners were transferred to Guantánamo, are, in 
fact, lies that were grafted onto the prisoners’ 
files after their arrival at Guantánamo. This is 
because, contrary to the impression given in the 
files, no significant screening process took 
place before the prisoners’ transfer. As a senior 
interrogator who worked in Afghanistan explained 
in a book that he wrote about his experiences, 
every prisoner who ended up in US custody had to 
be sent to Guantánamo, even though the majority 
were not even seized by US forces, but were 
seized by their Afghan and Pakistani allies at a 
time when 
bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread.

No exceptions to these rules were allowed, which 
explains why Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, an early 
commander at the prison, 
about the large number of “Mickey Mouse 
prisoners” that he was expected to deal with, and 
the lack of screening also helps to explain why 
Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the prison’s 
first commander, 
the BBC in February 2002 (before he was silenced) 
that “A large number [of the prisoners] claim to 
be Taliban, a smaller number we have been able to 
confirm as al-Qaeda, and a rather large number in 
the middle we have not been able to determine 
their status. Many of the detainees are not 
forthcoming. Many have been interviewed as many 
as four times, each time providing a different name and different information.”

How to Read WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

The nearly 800 documents in WikiLeaks’ latest 
release of classified US documents are memoranda 
from Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO), the 
combined force in charge of the US “War on 
Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to US 
Southern Command, in Miami, Florida, regarding 
the disposition of the prisoners.

Written between 2002 and 2008, the memoranda were 
all marked as “secret,” and their subject was 
whether to continue holding a prisoner, or 
whether to recommend his release (described as 
his “transfer” ­ to the custody of his own 
government, or that of some other government). 
They were obviously not conclusive in and of 
themselves, as final decisions about the 
disposition of prisoners were taken at a higher 
level, but they are very significant, as they 
represent not only the opinions of JTF-GTMO, but 
also the Criminal Investigation Task Force, 
created by the Department of Defense to conduct 
interrogations in the “War on Terror,” and the 
BSCTs, the behavioral science teams consisting of 
psychologists who had a major say in the 
“exploitation” of prisoners in interrogation.

Under the heading, “JTF-GTMO Detainee 
Assessment,” the memos generally contain nine 
sections, describing the prisoners as follows, 
although the earlier examples, especially those 
dealing with prisoners released ­ or recommended 
for release ­ between 2002 and 2004, may have 
less detailed analyses than the following:

1. Personal information

Each prisoner is identified by name, by aliases, 
which the US claims to have identified, by place 
and date of birth, by citizenship, and by 
Internment Serial Number (ISN). These long lists 
of numbers and letters ­ e.g. US9YM-000027DP ­ 
are used to identify the prisoners in Guantánamo, 
helping to dehumanize them, as intended, by doing 
away with their names. The most significant 
section is the number towards the end, which is 
generally shortened, so that the example above 
would be known as ISN 027. In the files, the 
prisoners are identified by nationality, with 47 
countries in total listed alphabetically, from 
“az” for Afghanistan to “ym” for Yemen.

2. Health

This section describes whether or not the 
prisoner in question has mental health issues 
and/or physical health issues. Many are judged to 
be in good health, but there are some shocking 
examples of prisoners with severe mental and/or physical problems.

3. JTF-GTMO Assessment

a. Under “Recommendation,” the Task Force 
explains whether a prisoner should continue to be held, or should be released.

b. Under “Executive Summary,” the Task Force 
briefly explains its reasoning, and, in more 
recent cases, also explains whether the prisoner 
is a low, medium or high risk as a threat to the 
US and its allies and as a threat in detention 
(i.e. based on their behavior in Guantánamo), and 
also whether they are regarded as of low, medium or high intelligence value.

c. Under “Summary of Changes,” the Task Force 
explains whether there has been any change in the 
information provided since the last appraisal 
(generally, the prisoners are appraised on an annual basis).

4. Detainee’s Account of Events

Based on the prisoners’ own testimony, this 
section puts together an account of their 
history, and how they came to be seized, in 
Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere, based on their own words.

5. Capture Information

This section explains how and where the prisoners 
were seized, and is followed by a description of 
their possessions at the time of capture, the 
date of their transfer to Guantánamo, and, 
spuriously, “Reasons for Transfer to JTF-GTMO,” 
which lists alleged reasons for the prisoners’ 
transfer, such as knowledge of certain topics for 
exploitation through interrogation. The reason 
that this is unconvincing is because, as former 
interrogator Chris Mackey (a pseudonym) explained 
in his book 
Interrogators, the US high command, based in Camp 
Doha, Kuwait, stipulated that every prisoner who 
ended up in US custody had to be transferred to 
Guantánamo ­ and that there were no exceptions; 
in other words, the “Reasons for Transfer” were 
grafted on afterwards, as an attempt to justify 
the largely random rounding-up of prisoners.

6. Evaluation of Detainee’s Account

In this section, the Task Force analyzes whether 
or not they find the prisoners’ accounts convincing.

7. Detainee Threat

This section is the most significant from the 
point of view of the supposed intelligence used 
to justify the detention of prisoners. After 
“Assessment,” which reiterates the conclusion at 
3b, the main section, “Reasons for Continued 
Detention,” may, at first glance, look 
convincing, but it must be stressed that, for the 
most part, it consists of little more than 
unreliable statements made by the prisoners’ 
fellow prisoners ­ either in Guantánamo, or in 
prisons run by the CIA, where torture and other 
forms of coercion were widespread, or through 
more subtle means in Guantánamo, where compliant 
prisoners who were prepared to make statements 
about their fellow prisoners were rewarded with 
better treatment. Some examples are available on 
<http://wikileaks.ch/gitmo/>the homepage for the 
release of these documents (cross-posted with 

With this in mind, it should be noted that there 
are good reasons why Obama administration 
officials, in the interagency Guantánamo Review 
Task Force established by the President to review 
the cases of the 241 prisoners still held in 
Guantánamo when he took office, 
that only 36 could be prosecuted.

The final part of this section, “Detainee’s 
Conduct,” analyzes in detail how the prisoners 
have behaved during their imprisonment, with 
exact figures cited for examples of “Disciplinary Infraction.”

8. Detainee Intelligence Value Assessment

After reiterating the intelligence assessment at 
3b and recapping on the prisoners’ alleged 
status, this section primarily assesses which 
areas of intelligence remain to be “exploited,” according to the Task Force.

9. EC Status

The final section notes whether or not the 
prisoner in question is still regarded as an 
“enemy combatant,” based on the findings of the 
Combatant Status Review Tribunals, held in 
2004-05 to ascertain whether, on capture, the 
prisoners had been correctly labeled as “enemy 
combatants.” Out of 558 cases, just 38 prisoners 
were assessed as being “no longer enemy 
combatants,” and in some cases, when the result 
went in the prisoners’ favor, the military 
new panels until it got the desired result.


In addition, please find below the introductions 
that I wrote to three briefing documents that 
were put up on WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files page 
last week, to accompany the release of the 
prisoner files (which have now almost all been 
released). I also wrote the introduction to 
classification document, which is not included 
here, because it is probably only of interest 
those who take a professional interest in the US 
military’s obsession with classification, but I 
hope that the three briefing documents provide a 
fascinating accompaniment to the prisoner files.

Cover Story Assessment

This document, a four-page briefing paper 
of Afghanistan Travels and Islamic Duties as they 
Pertain to Interrogation,” was published in 
August 2004 and provides interrogators with 
information about the perceived activities of 
foreigners in Afghanistan, and the types of cover 
stories that were allegedly used on a regular 
basis by foreigners who had traveled there for jihad.

While this may well have proved useful in 
identifying individuals who were attempting to 
hide their true motives, it also undoubtedly 
contributed to an atmosphere in which everyone 
who claimed to be innocent was regarded as having 
been trained by al-Qaeda to resist interrogation, 
leading to confirmation bias, even if, as was the 
case with many of those held, they were indeed innocent.

EC Threat Indicators

This document, a 17-page briefing paper entitled, 
Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy 
Combatants,” was intended to help interrogators 
“to determine a detainee's capabilities and 
intentions to pose a terrorist threat if the 
detainee were given the opportunity,” primarily 
through the use of three types of indicators: “1) 
the detainee himself provides acknowledgement of 
a fact; 2) another detainee, document, 
government, etc. provides an identification of 
the detainee; and 3) analysis of the detainee's 
timeline, activities, and associates in context 
with other known events and individuals.”

The document contains detailed lists of places 
where prisoners were captured, which are regarded 
as suspicious, and groupings of prisoners 
regarded as significant. It also includes signs 
allegedly indicating military training and 
fighting, indicators of membership in al-Qaeda 
and other terrorist groups, including travel 
routes and locations allegedly frequented by 
al-Qaeda members, and an analysis of what are regarded as common cover stories.

Also included are similar analyses regarding the 
Taliban or “Anti-Coalition Militia,” and a 
worryingly large list of “Associated Forces,” 
including relief organizations that were not 
regarded as a threat outside of Guantánamo, and 
the huge missionary organization Jama’at 
Al-Tablighi, which has millions of members 
worldwide, but which was routinely described in 
Guantánamo as a front for terrorist activities.

JTF-GTMO Threat Matrix

This two-page document, entitled, 
Detainee Recommendation and Threat Matrix,” was 
published in May 2008 and explains the different 
categories of prisoners at Guantánamo, designated 
as high-risk, medium-risk and low-risk, and the 
recommendations for their disposition, which 
consist of “Continued Detention,” “Transfer Out of DoD Control,” and “Release.”

It should be noted that there is no category for 
innocent people seized by mistake, even though 
the documents themselves reveal that many of the 
prisoners were indeed seized by mistake, and were 
therefore no risk at all, although two of the 
definitions of a low-risk prisoner are that they 
“had little or no terrorist sponsored or related 
training” and that they “had few, if any, 
associations with terrorists, terrorist groups, or terrorist support networks.”

The document also includes the following alarming 
footnote about prisoners facing “Imminent Death”: 
“Medical prognosis indicating death within 6-12 
months may be justification for humanitarian transfer.”

Andy Worthington is the author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published 
by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the 
US, and available from Amazon ­ click on the 
following for the 
and the 
and of two other books: 
Celebration and Subversion and 
Battle of the Beanfield

Freedom Archives
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415 863-9977

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