Documents provided by exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal National Security Agency operatives worked closely with US military, CIA and other interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where detainees were tortured in the fight against terrorism.
The Intercept reports internal NSA Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID) documents show the agency sought operatives to participate in interrogations at GITMO, where hundreds of detainees have been held, almost all without charge or trial, since early 2002.
In October 2003, SIDtoday, the online SID newsletter, advertised a temporary posting to GITMO, where agents had the opportunity to collaborate with CIA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Defense interrogators “on a daily basis in order to assess and exploit information sourced from detainees.” In at least some cases, NSA agents were tasked with providing “sensitive NSA-collected technical data and products to assist JTF-GTMO [Joint Task Force Guantánamo] interrogation efforts.”
The advertisement was titled “Can You Handle the Truth? Or, 90 Days in Guantánamo Bay,” a reference to actor Jack Nicholson’s most famous line in the military courtroom drama A Few Good Men, which was set in pre-9/11 GITMO.
A separate SIDtoday post, dated December 2003, detailed one NSA agent’s typical GITMO regimen.
“On a given week, [we would] pull together intelligence to support an upcoming interrogation, formulate questions and strategies for the interrogation, and observe or participate in the interrogation,” the agent wrote. He added that life at the military prison, which some critics have called a concentration camp, wasn’t all work and no play.
“Fun awaits,” the operative wrote. “Water sports are outstanding: boating, paddling, fishing, water skiing and boarding, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and SCUBA… Relaxing is easy.”
Relaxing isn’t so easy for the prisoners at GITMO, especially not those cleared for release or who are outright innocent. US military officials have long known that in addition to hardened terrorists, low-level operatives and even innocent men have been imprisoned at GITMO. In 2011, the whistleblower website Wikileaks published classified documents leaked by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning proving that senior officials in the George W. Bush administration knowingly imprisoned some 150 innocent men and boys there. Among the innocent victims of America’s aggressive pursuit of terrorists after September 11, 2001 were an 89-year-old Afghan villager suffering from senile dementia and a 14-year-old kidnapping victim.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell, has claimed that Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney—who admitted last December that innocent men were caught up in the CIA torture program—and Rumsfeld, who was defense secretary, all knew the “vast majority” of GITMO detainees were innocent or no danger but held them anyway for political reasons.
Numerous high-ranking GITMO officials have resigned over what they claim is a corrupt military commissions system established to prosecute detainees at the prison. Former GITMO lead prosecutor Col. Morris Davis called trials there “rigged from the start.” After resigning, Davis said he was told point-blank by top Bush lawyer Jim Haynes that acquittals were unacceptable. At least four other military prosecutors requested to be removed from the GITMO military commissions because they also felt that the proceedings were unfair.
Marine Corps Gen. Michael Lehnert, the first commander of GITMO during America’s war against terrorism, has called for the prison’s closure, arguing that its continued existence helps America’s enemies and “validates every negative perception of the United States.”
“In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong,” Lehnert wrote in 2013. “We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture.”
GITMO proponents argue that detainees there are not subject to protections against torture under domestic and international law and that the focus should be on the horrific crimes of al-Qaeda committed on September 11, 2001.
Although he issued an executive order to close GITMO on his first full day in office and offered a plan to relocate its detainees to a stateside facility, President Barack Obama has been thwarted by popular demands to keep detainees out of the United States and by repeated congressional action to prevent him from closing the prison.
Under both Bush and Obama, hundreds of GITMO detainees have been released to various countries willing to resettle them. Of the roughly 780 people imprisoned at Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, 80 remain there—many of them cleared for release by the Obama or Bush administrations, or both. Nine detainees have died while in custody.
Many GITMO detainees were brutally abused by their American captors, with FBI agents protesting interrogation methods they described as “torture techniques.” FBI agents described detainees who were menaced or attacked by dogs, denied food or water, shackled in excruciating “stress positions” and tormented with loud music and strobe lights. In 2004, investigators from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes [and] use of forced positions” occurring at GITMO. Such torture methods have resulted in detainee deaths in US military and CIA custody, as detailed in the December 2014 Senate torture report.