Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Guantanamo `failed to prevent terror'

INEFFECTIVE The Bush administration ``wildly exaggerated'' the value of prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, a former US military intelligence official says

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, the controversial US military detention center where guards have been accused of brutality and torture, have not prevented a single terrorist attack, according to a senior Pentagon intelligence officer who worked at the heart of the US war on terror.

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, who retired last June after 20 years in military intelligence, says that US President George W Bush and US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have "wildly exaggerated" their intelligence value.

Christino's revelations, to be published this week in Guantanamo: America's War on Human Rights, by British journalist David Rose, are supported by three further intelligence officials. Christino also disclosed that the "screening process" in Afghanistan which determined whether detainees were sent to Guantanamo was "hopelessly flawed from the get-go."

It was performed by new recruits who had almost no training, and were forced to rely on incompetent interpreters. They were "far too poorly trained to identify real terrorists from the ordinary Taliban militia."

According to Christino, most of the approximately 600 detainees at Guantanamo -- including four Britons -- at worst had supported the Taliban in the civil war it had been fighting against the Northern Alliance before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but had had no contact with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda.

For six months in the middle of 2003 until his retirement, Christino had regular access to material derived from Guantanamo prisoner interrogations, serving as senior watch officer for the central Pentagon unit known as the Joint Intelligence Task Force-Combating Terrorism (JITF-CT). This made him responsible for every piece of information that went in or out of the unit, including what he describes as "analysis of critical, time-sensitive intelligence."

In his previous assignment in Germany, one of his roles had been to coordinate intelligence support to the US army in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, and to units responsible for transporting prisoners there.

Bush, Rumsfeld and Major General Geoffrey Miller, Guantanamo's former commandant who is now in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, have repeatedly claimed that Guantanamo interrogations have provided "enormously valuable intelligence," thanks to a system of punishments, physical and mental abuse and rewards for for cooperation, introduced by Miller and approved by Rumsfeld.

In a speech in Miami, Rumsfeld claimed: "Detaining enemy combatants ... can help us prevent future acts of terrorism. It can save lives and I am convinced it can speed victory."

However, Christino says, General Miller had never worked in intelligence before being assigned to Guantanamo, and his system seems almost calculated to produce entirely bogus confessions.

Earlier this year, three British released detainees, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul Rhuhel Ahmed, revealed that they had all confessed to meeting bin Laden and Mohamed Atta, leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, at a camp in Afghanistan in 2000. All had cracked after three months isolated in solitary confinement and interrogation sessions in chains that lasted up to 12 hours daily.

Eventually, MI5 (British counter intelligence) proved what they had said initially -- that none had left the UK that year. The disclosures come on the eve of a House of Lords appeal on the fate of the foreign terrorist suspects held without trial in British prisons.

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