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Monday, 12 April 2010 05:39

Former Bush Official Confirms: We Have Innocent Blood on Our Hands

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by Meg White

There's something especially acute and universal about the pain of being falsely accused. Even the smallest child can understand the unfairness of punishment for a crime one did not commit. It's why most Americans actually believe the accused are "innocent until proven guilty," because the alternative is too horrifying to imagine.

That is, unless you're living at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state, recently submitted at document in support of a former detainee's lawsuit that alleges that the Bush Administration knew that the majority of the men held there were innocent.

Possibly the worst part of Wilkerson's allegation is that the administration made the decision not to release innocent men based on pure politics. They didn't want to look like they didn't know what they were doing. It's one thing to be wrongly accused. It's quite another to be known to be innocent, but locked up purely for political expediency. From the UK's Times Online (emphasis mine):

[Wilkerson] claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”...

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent ... If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

He alleged that for Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld “innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader War on Terror and the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks”.

He added: “I discussed the issue of the Guantánamo detainees with Secretary Powell. I learnt that it was his view that it was not just Vice-President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld, but also President Bush who was involved in all of the Guantánamo decision making.”

Ironically, the detained made it easier for the government to convince the American public that we were doing the right thing. Wilkerson said that the administration saw the jailed innocents as “justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country.”

The supporting document was filed on behalf of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese man held at Guantánamo from March 2003 to December 2007. Powell is said to have backed Wilkerson's words.

These are some pretty hefty charges. The reaction from the previous administration? No comment.

In fact, most of the media seems downright quiet on this story. I heard more over the weekend about Tiger Woods than I did about this bombshell of a news story. Thankfully, I don't suffer from absence of a comment on this story.

This all happened as a direct result of how American forces were instructed to operate in the beginning of the occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq. We basically paid bounty hunters to bring us what they insisted were militants, without really requiring that they prove it. Boys as young as 12 and men as old as 93 were rounded up for cash, to settle tribal disputes or for who knows what other reasons.

Many have made the argument that suspected terrorists should not be protected under the Geneva Conventions. Did the previous administration make a silent calculation that innocent people shouldn't be covered either? Unfortunately, it seems the actions of an overzealous administration may have blurred the line between innocence and militancy.

Though more than 700 detainees were swept up in the first haphazard waves, only 180-some remain in Guantánamo. You hear people across the political spectrum insist that Guantánamo is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda. It is a lot easier for enemy combatants to call us terrorists when we lock up innocent people for no apparent reason for years on end. 

But what happens to those innocent people, some of whom may have been subjected to solitary confinement, torture, and other unwarranted punishments that have been shown to damage prisoners' outlook on humanity? Do they go back to their shattered lives and start trying to pick up the pieces? My guess is that all too many of them turn against their former captors and join the ranks of the same people whom they had been wrongly accused of helping in the first place.

In other words, the Bush Administration made this world significantly more dangerous. It was one thing when we found out they lied in order to get us to go to war. Then we found out that torture and abuse was the way the war was being run behind the barbed wire. Now we receive confirmation that most of the people behind that barbed wire were innocent, and that Bush and Cheney were too worried about their hold on power to let them go.

The only way to get beyond the trauma of having our system of justice so twisted is to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush Administration. It will help us mourn for the loss to our country, and eventually move on.

But there is now an even more important reason to call for an investigation. If we don't act, we all have innocent blood on our hands.


What do you think this news means for the state of American justice and the need to investigate the previous administration? Head over to the BuzzFlash discussion question for today and make your voice heard.

Of course, if you have a comment about this column specifically, feel free to leave it in the section below.