Friday, May 07, 2004

'Cooks and drivers were working as interrogators'

An excerpt from this story by Julian Borger in today's Guardian:

Many of the prisoners abused at the Abu Ghraib prison were innocent Iraqis picked up at random by US troops, and incarcerated by under-qualified intelligence officers, a former US interrogator from the notorious jail told the Guardian.

Torin Nelson, who served as a military intelligence officer at Guantánamo Bay before moving to Abu Ghraib as a private contractor last year, blamed the abuses on a failure of command in US military intelligence and an over-reliance on private firms. He alleged that those companies were so anxious to meet the demand for their services that they sent "cooks and truck drivers" to work as interrogators.

"Military intelligence operations need to drastically change in order for something like this not to happen again," Mr Nelson said. He spoke to the Guardian in a series of interviews by phone and email.

He claimed that "many of the detainees at the prison are actually innocent of any acts against the coalition and are being held until the bureaucracy there can go through their cases and verify their need to be released."

"One case in point is a detainee whom I recommended for release and months later was still sitting in the same tent with no change in his status."

Mr Nelson said that the same systemic problems were also responsible for large numbers of Afghans being mistakenly swept into Guantánamo Bay. He estimated that "30-40%" of the inmates at the controversial prison camp had no connection to terrorism.

"There are people who should never have been sent over there. I was involved in the process of reviewing people for possible release and I can say definitely that they should have been released and released a lot sooner," he said....

There is no evidence of abuses on the scale of Abu Ghraib being committed at Guantánamo Bay, but Mr Nelson said that like the Iraqi jail, it was packed with innocent people, who are only now being released.

"Mistakes were made and people who should never have been sent there ended up there, and it's taken this amount of time to get people to take the decision to get these people out of there," Mr Nelson said.

"All it takes is the signature of a low ranking NCO to send someone right around the world and have them locked up indefinitely but it takes the signature of the secretary of defence to let them go."

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