Ten years ago this week, the U.S. government opened the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility. And three years ago this month, shortly after his inauguration, President Barack Obama ordered Guantanamo shuttered within one year. For a variety of reasons, Gitmo remains open, with approximately 171 detainees still detained there. And so, human rights organizations, detainee lawyers, and former detainees are doing their best to shame the U.S. government into closing the facility.
In that vein, the New York Times published two op-eds by former Guantanamo detainees on Sunday. One is by Lakhdar Boumediene and the other is by Murat Kurnaz. Both men claim they were innocents, wrongly detained then abused and tortured by American personnel. A closer look at what is known about the two provides ample reasons to doubt their stories.
To begin with, note that Boumediene has previously claimed he was tortured during both the Bush and Obama administrations. Boumediene was transferred from Guantanamo in May 2009, several months after the Obama administration took over. And Boumediene claimed that his torture continued right up until the moment he was freed. Here is how Boumediene described his time at Guantanamo under the Obama administration during an interview with Dan Rather:
They lie, lie, lie. These [sic] lie. Nothing changed in Guantanamo. Nothing. The same rules…They torture me in the Obama time more than Bush. More than him.
Does the New York Times believe that the Obama administration either authorized this alleged torture, or looked the other way while it was occurring? Recall that upon inspecting Guantanamo in February 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder called Guantanamo a “well-run” and “professional” detention facility.
Thus, either Boumediene is lying about his experience at Guantanamo, or the Obama administration is callously pro-torture.
Both Boumediene and Kurnaz claim they were subjected to harsh, coercive treatment at Guantanamo, yet they never admitted to the supposedly fictitious allegations levied against them. This contradicts one of the anti-Guantanamo crowd’s main talking points. It is often argued that harsh interrogations at Guantanamo and in the CIA’s interrogation facilities produced worthless intelligence because detainees will say anything to make torture stop. Thus, the argument goes, detainees will tell interrogators what they want to hear. The critics maintain that harsh interrogations only succeeded in eliciting false confessions from innocent men, or false intelligence from otherwise guilty men. (In fact, whether you approve of them or not, the purpose of coercive interrogations was to garner actionable intelligence that could be used to prosecute a war, not false confessions that could be used to prosecute detainees.) But here, if we are to believe Boumediene and Kurnaz, they were tortured, yet they did not tell their interrogators what they wanted to hear.
In reality, there is no independent reason to believe that either Boumediene or Kurnaz were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques. The servicemen at Guantanamo are fond of saying that only two parties know the absolute truth about what occurs there: U.S. military personnel and the detainees. This creates an information vacuum, which the detainees and their advocates gladly fill with all sorts of stories.
In the early days of Guantanamo, some interrogations did in fact rely upon harsh measures. This has been independently documented by a variety of sources. But those interrogations were specially authorized by senior Defense Department officials and were not the norm. There is no evidence that either Boumediene or Kurnaz was subjected to a specially approved interrogation plan.
U.S. intelligence officials at Guantanamo have long maintained that they used rapport-building and other non-coercive techniques in the vast majority of their interrogations. In some cases, detainees did begin to talk, offering up valuable intelligence. In other cases, detainees decided to stay mum.