What Wikileaks Gitmo files says about our Western “values”

My following article appears in today’s ABC The Drum:

The Wikileaks-released Guantanamo Bay files provide an invaluable insight into the mindset of the US and its allies since September 11.

An infrastructure of torture was implemented, a practice still defended by the US government today, to allegedly protect the homeland from future attack.

The result was hundreds of innocent men kidnapped and incarcerated without trial – a “legal and moral disaster”, according to The New York Times – and President Obama continues shielding torturers in the previous and current administrations. He has pledged to Look Forward and Not Back. The current President has merely extended the Bush administration’s indefinite detention regime for so-called terror suspects.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald unleashed necessary fury about this reality:

The idea of trusting the government to imprison people for life based on secret, untested evidence never reviewed by a court should repel any decent or minimally rational person, but these newly released files demonstrate how warped is this indefinite detention policy specifically.

Yet this authoritarian impulse to believe untested claims by the US government is exactly what many in the media have been doing for years, repeating without question deliberately leaked intelligence files on the “worst of the worst” prisoners.

One local example is The Australian columnist Chris Kenny, failed Liberal politician and former chief of staff to former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. During a Twitter conversation on Wednesday with Paul Barrett, a former Secretary of Australian Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy, Kenny wrote, “You’re arguing to set free people who have murdered thousands” when Barrett asked why the US refused to conduct fair and open trials for individuals who had never faced justice.

In Kenny’s worldview, the American military has smeared hundreds of Muslims as terrorists and that’s good enough for him. The fact that the Wikileaks file shows the vast majority of Guantanamo Bay detainees had no connection to September 11 or terrorism can be ignored.

This has been the default position of the vast bulk of the corporate press since 9/11. In Australia, especially the Murdoch press has smeared former Guantanamo Bay inmates David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. This continued with Downer who called both men “terrible, terrible people”, perhaps because he fears what an independent investigation may find in regards to his own government’s alleged complicity in their long incarceration.

Australian journalist Sally Neighbour published an analysis a few days ago that inadvertently undermined her own paper’s years of misleading reporting:

The dossiers on Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks reveal the so-called evidence used to justify their incarceration to be a confused mishmash replete with glaring factual errors and inconsistencies, principally based on self-incrimination that would not be admitted in a proper court of law and tainted by the inclusion of information obtained under torture.

What Neighbour conveniently omitted from her report were the journalists and editors who have dined for years on rehashing US government released propaganda against Hicks and Habib, including The Australian, and smearing them constantly. Clearly media accountability was not on the agenda for a decade of establishment stenography. Today’s Australian editorial begrudgingly acknowledges the torture suffered by Habib and Hicks but issues no apology for spending years accusing them both of terrorism.

Thankfully this week’s Sydney Morning Herald editorially called the treatment of Hicks and Habib by its rightful name, torture.

It took one of the world’s more diligent and un-embedded journalists on Guantanamo Bay inmates, Andy Worthington, to unpack the Wikileaks revelations and highlight the decade of ignoring legal precedent for the Cuban and American black hole down which countless men were tortured and housed.

Reading Worthington’s copious work over the years makes a reader wonder why more mainstream reporters didn’t investigate the prison camp with a very critical eye. Is it because, as a former Bush official said, too many US journalists wanted to be seen as “patriotic” and protect America’s “interests”. Truth came a distant third. Guantanamo Bay was a place where psychological experiments and torture was common-place.

But what of the latest Wikileaks revelations themselves which, for the record, should be seen as merely US official opinion rather than actual factual reporting? We learn that the US allowed a number of repressive country’s intelligence services access to Guantanamo Bay detainees, including officials from China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

This highly prejudicial process was also committed by Australia during the Howard government when it emerged in 2005 that Chinese officials were allowed to interrogate Chinese asylum seekers in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.

In the years after 9/11 (and also before), America was kidnapping terror suspects and sending them through extraordinary rendition to authoritarian states where these prisoners would be tortured for information. The latest Guantanamo Bay files confirm that Washington was also asking repressive regimes to assist them in identifying people as well as probably threatening their families back home.

The Wikileaks files detail America’s treatment of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj who languished without charge for six years in Guantanamo Bay. It can now be confirmed that he was only held in the prison camp because the Bush administration hated the Qatar-based news network and wanted to gain more information about its alleged connection to terrorism. It is a chilling warning to media companies the world over.

The response of the Obama administration to the latest document dump was typically Orwellian. The lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay were told, even after the mainstream press had widely disseminated the Wikileaks documents, that the files remained legally classified. The New York Times perfectly highlighted the issue:

Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern law professor who represents Abu Zubaydah, the detainee accused of being a terrorist facilitator who was waterboarded by the Central Intelligence Agency, said he could not comment on the newly disclosed assessment of his client, which is posted on The Times Web site.“Everyone else can talk about it,” Mr. Margulies said. “I can’t talk about it.”

Although Wikileaks itself was not a major focus of this release (only briefly, anyway), it again proved the power of the whistle-blowing website. Western news organisations were forced to collaborate with an organisation with a relatively small staff and budget. The obvious question remains; why didn’t The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Guardian receive the scoop with their own investigations?

If former US army soldier Bradley Manning was the leaker of this information – President Obama has already said Manning is guilty, undoubtedly affecting any potential trial – he has given the world an invaluable insight into a superpower’s tyranny; he is a patriot in the truest sense of the word.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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