Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation that seeks to improve government transparency, has obtained two important Guantanamo-related documents from the Department of Defense via a Freedom of Information Act request. One of the documents is a draft presentation dated February 4, 2004. Reading through it, one cannot help but be struck by how different the presentation’s narrative is from so much of the public discourse.
The press and many commentators treat Guantanamo like a law enforcement problem. The claim that detainees are “held without charge,” as if they were arrested as mere criminals, has been repeated time and again. The truth is that Guantanamo was never a prison or some sort of criminal justice facility. The U.S. government never intended to try most of the detainees in any court. Guantanamo always has been, and continues to be, a military detention facility. As such, its chief purposes were to remove jihadists from the battlefield or any environment where they may pose a threat, and to collect intelligence from them.
With respect to this second purpose (collecting intelligence), the February 2004 draft presentation contains four slides in particular that outline the value of the information gained from Guantanamo detainees.
The first relevant slide can be found on page 19 of the presentation and is titled, “The Value of Detention – An Overview.” It notes that “[r]elevant information…flows from Guantanamo regularly.”
The slide reads (emphasis in original): “The primary and continuing intelligence contribution of Guantanamo detainees is to improve the security of our nation and coalition partners by expanding our understanding of al-Qaida, its affiliates, and other extremely dangerous terrorist groups that threaten our security.”
The slide then contains three bullet-point summaries of what had been learned:
Detainees have revealed al-Qaida leadership structures, operatives, funding mechanisms, communications methods, training and selection programs, travel patterns, support infrastructures, and plans for attacking the United States and other countries.
Information has been used by forces on the battlefield to identify significant military and tribal leaders engaged in or supporting attacks on US and coalition forces.
Detainees continuously provide information that confirms other reporting regarding the roles and intentions of al-Qaida and other terrorist operatives.
A second slide (page 20 of the presentation) is titled, “Overall Contributions to the War of [sic] Terror.” It lists the “[i]dentification of detainees with multiple, close contacts with Usama bin Ladin (UBL) as well as other al-Qaida and Taliban leaders and operatives” as being an important contribution to America’s intelligence efforts. Under this category, the slide contains four bullet points:
Information on individuals connected to al-Qaida Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear program.
Information on UBL’s personal security procedures.
Information on UBL front companies and accounts supporting al-Qaida, Taliban and HIG operations.
Many detainees admit membership in, and relationships with, significant al-Qaida leadership.
The slide also lists the “[i]dentification of top al-Qaida explosives trainers, translators for military commanders, and liaison operatives between al-Qaida and Taliban elements” as a benefit of the intelligence derived at Guantanamo. Three bullet points are included under this subheading:
Information on surface-to-air missiles, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and tactics and training used by al-Qaida, Taliban, and HIG elements.
Significant, “actionable” information on al-Qaida explosives training, assembly and distribution throughout Afghanistan.
Information on the training of young adults (16-18 years old) for suicide bombing missions.
A third slide (p. 21) entitled, “Valuable Information Gained through Detention,” lists “Information on Support Operations to Al Qaida and its Affiliates.” Four examples are given:
Detailed information on travel routes used by terrorists to reach the United States via Latin America.
Identification of Hezb-I Islam/Gulbuddin (HIG) associates in Afghanistan.
Detailed information on transnational funding operations in support of al-Qaida, Taliban, and HIG, as well as information on individuals suspected of money laundering for terrorist organizations.
Information on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) providing financial and material support to terrorist organizations.
A fourth slide (p. 22), “Actionable Results,” reads:
By connecting the dots, information obtained through analysis at Guantanamo is helping in the war on terrorism.
The slide cites five examples of ways American counterterrorism efforts have benefited from Guantanamo. For instance, “US and Coalition forces have…[d]eveloped countermeasures to disrupt terrorist travel routes into the United States.”
The slides contained in the draft presentation obtained by Judicial Watch help tell part of the Guantanamo story that is rarely told, let alone appreciated. The intelligence derived from Guantanamo detainees, almost all of whom were subjected to non-coercive interrogation methods, has been invaluable to America’s counterterrorism efforts. The intelligence covered everything from individuals tied to al Qaeda's WMD programs to "actionable" intelligence concerning how al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies fight American-led forces in Afghanistan.
It is a story the Bush administration did a poor job in explaining. And it is a story that the Obama administration has no interest in telling since it just wants Guantanamo closed.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.