Former US president George W. Bush and his top aides were accused Friday of covering up that many Guantanamo Bay detainees were innocent, amid fears releasing them could harm the ‘war on terror’.
The allegations were made in a document by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to Bush’s first secretary of state, Colin Powell, in a lawsuit filed by a former Guantanamo inmate and published by The Times in London.
Wilkerson alleged Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew that most detainees held at the US detention camp in 2002 were innocent but believed it was “politically impossible to release them”.
They were also keen to avoid revealing the “incredibly confused” detention operation, Wilkerson said, claiming prisoners were often rounded up by Afghan and Pakistani forces in return for cash, with little or no evidence as to why.
He alleged Cheney “had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent… If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it”.
Wilkerson, who according to The Times has been a long-time critic of the Bush administration’s approach to counter-terrorism, said he discussed the issue with Powell, who left his job in 2005.
“I learnt that it was his view that it was not just vice president Cheney and secretary Rumsfeld, but also president Bush who was involved in all of the Guantanamo decision-making,” the newspaper reported him as saying.
Wilkerson’s statement was filed in support of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese man held at Guantanamo Bay from March 2003 until December 2007. He claims he was tortured by US agents and filed a damages action Thursday, The Times said.
Some 183 detainees remain at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba, including dozens already cleared for release. Most have been held without charge or trial.