Sunday, June 20, 2004
Dept. of Defining Success Downward, from the New York Times:
For nearly two and a half years, American officials have maintained that locked within the steel-mesh cells of the military prison here are some of the world's most dangerous terrorists — "the worst of a very bad lot," Vice President Dick Cheney has called them.
The officials say information gleaned from the detainees has exposed terrorist cells, thwarted planned attacks and revealed vital intelligence about Al Qaeda. The secrets they hold and the threats they pose justify holding them indefinitely without charge, Bush administration officials have said.
But as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legal status of the 595 men imprisoned here, an examination by The New York Times has found that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.
In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of Al Qaeda. They said only a relative handful — some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen — were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization's inner workings.
While some Guantánamo intelligence has aided terrorism investigations, none of of it has enabled intelligence or law-enforcement services to foil imminent attacks, the officials said. Compared with the higher-profile Qaeda operatives held elsewhere by the C.I.A., the Guantánamo detainees have provided only a trickle of intelligence with current value, the officials said. Because nearly all of that intelligence is classified, most of the officials would discuss it only on the condition of anonymity.
"When you have the overall mosaic of all the intelligence picked up all over the world, Guantánamo provided a very small piece of that mosaic," said a senior American official who has reviewed the intelligence in detail. "It's been helpful and valuable in certain areas. Was it the mother lode of intelligence? No."