Claim: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld Knew Gitmo Detainees Were Innocent

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I suppose we all suspected this on some level. But it’s still nauseating.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”…

Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent … If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”…

Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld, Colonel Wilkerson said, deemed the incarceration of innocent men acceptable if some genuine militants were captured, leading to a better intelligence picture of Iraq at a time when the Bush Administration was desperate to find a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, “thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country”.

To borrow from Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Digg it |  reddit | |  Fark

47 Responses to “Claim: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld Knew Gitmo Detainees Were Innocent”

  1. #1 |  zendingo | 

    the worst of the worst, huh?
    time for the mental gymnastics to justify this crime too, can’t wait for the “my country, right or wrong” crowd to start accusing people of supporting terrorists and hating troops. another week in paradise:)

  2. #2 |  Kristen | 

    I have no doubt Joe Six Pack feels the same lack of concern for a buncha ferner Ay-rabs as Cheney did. This is why we are the enemy. It’s out job to put a stop to he Cheneys and Rumsfelds of the world, but we can’t be arsed.

  3. #3 |  Kristen | 

    out=our. Daggone it.

  4. #4 |  Steve | 

    How disgusting. I didn’t support the invasion of Iraq, and I had many problems with the way that the invasion of Afghanistan was carried out. But I had some faith that they were generally doing what they though was right. How foolish of me.

    Wilkerson should have resigned and gone public years ago, when it would have made a real difference.

  5. #5 |  Steve | 

    @Kristen (#2) This is why we are the enemy.

    I don’t understand that sentence from the context. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, I honestly don’t know what you mean.

    1. Who is “we”?

    2. To whom are “we” the enemy?

    3. Why?

  6. #6 |  Sky | 

    “Wilkerson should have resigned and gone public years ago, when it would have made a real difference.”


  7. #7 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld, Colonel Wilkerson said, deemed the incarceration of innocent men acceptable if some genuine militants were captured

    Yes, it is acceptable – there are always going to be mistakes. What’s not acceptable is:

    1. The system was set up in such a way as to invite widespread abuse. Afghanis were given $5000 per person with no questions asked and no investigation done. That amount of money is more than a year’s income there. Carrots only work well with sticks; Turning over an innocent person must be punished.

    2. Damage should be mitigated. Innocent people should have been released immediately, good name cleared as much as possible, investigation into how it happened, safeguards to prevent such in the future.

    3. We’re unhappy with our criminal justice system where at most a few percent of the prisoners are innocent. In the case of Guantanamo Bay, I believe that something like 80% or more of the people originally brought there were later determined to have been innocent. I pointed this out at LGF (yeah, I occasionally wander into bee hives) one day as a reason to question whether those remaining were terrorists when brought in, and was told (among the “oh brother”s) solemnly that since we’d weeded out the innocent ones, those left are definitely the worst of the worst.

    The bottom line is that our country captured or payed for the capture of innocent people and then refused to let them go when it was clear that a mistake was made. Now we have people that need to be let go and we can’t send them back to the home countries, so we’re pressuring smaller countries to take them. It’s a mess, and one that was fully avoidable at almost every step.

  8. #8 |  Mattocracy | 

    I imagine that if Wilkerson had come forward while Bush was in office, they would have crucified him. Maybe more literally than figuratively. I’m wondering if fear of what these people were really capable of kept his mouth shut.

  9. #9 |  Steve | 

    Mattocracy, so you think he’d end up in Ft. Marcy Park?

  10. #10 |  MassHole | 

    “Wilkerson should have resigned and gone public years ago, when it would have made a real difference.”

    I certainly agree with this sentiment. However, I wonder if it would have been effective. We saw what happened when people like Paul O’Neil who left and made his concerns known. Not a damn thing. Eric Shinseki was promptly shown the door for telling the truth and there was no change either. I think there was just too much blood lust in the air for voices of reason to pierce the veil of lies and propaganda foisted upon the country. He would have been promptly labeled “pro-terrorist” by the usual suspects and GITMO would have rolled right along. We’ve known for years now GITMO was full of random people picked up for cash, but it’s still there and open for business. Thanks Obama.

    Perhaps Wilkerson is playing a long game. By staying in the admin, he was able to keep track of where the bodies are buried while trying to make a difference when he could versus being replaced by a true believer. He appears to be using that access to stick it to these bastards now. I’m sure it would be much more lucrative for him to keep quiet and get cushy board seats at military contractors.

  11. #11 |  Kristen | 

    To borrow from Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

  12. #12 |  Mattocracy | 

    As former supporter of W. and the War in Iraq, just about all of us were convinced that there was no way this shit could be happening. It just seemed so far fetched that our military, government, and intellegence agencies could be doing what we thought only really evil people like the North Koreans would do. Anyone making any such notions was obviosly playing partisan politics just to undermine a Republican Administration at all costs. This was the logic that was fed to us and we all bought it.

    I know there are a lot of people commenting here that thought W. and Cheney were full of shit from the get go, but for those of us who really believed, I don’t think you can really understand the real anger and shame you feel when you realize that your loyalty was taken advantage of like this. I know that everyone in the US was taken advantage of, but for some us, it feels a lot more personal.

    I’m sorry, we fucked up. If we hadn’t, maybe the Bush Admin would’ve been forced to play this Gitmo thing a little differently.

  13. #13 |  David in Balt | 


    You really think it is acceptable that innocent people have their lives destroyed to catch a few people who have done harm? I am a firm believer in the philosophy that ‘it is better a hundred guilty go free then one innocent be condemned.’ If the point of the system is justice, or to protect the innocent from harm, incarcerating the innocent in effect creates more injustice (and obviously harm to the innocent) and by definition creates more of what the system was attempting to solve in the first place. I think it is pretty disgusting that someone could simply wave their hand and say it is okay that so many innocent people had their lives ruined because ‘shit happens.’

  14. #14 |  Random Nuclear Strikes » If true… | 

    […] Bush et al knew many Gitmo detainees were innocent and did nothing. […]

  15. #15 |  Michael Chaney | 

    David in Balt:

    Shit *does* happen, so you have to create a system that mitigates the damage as much as possible. One of the concepts that libertarians really have to help spread is “there are no solutions, only tradeoffs”. Most really big problems that we deal with do not have a definitive solution that works in all cases. Instead, we have to come up with a series of tradeoffs and determine what acceptable levels of failure are and how to minimize them.

    It’s easy to say “one hundred guilty go free than one innocent condemned”, but in the real world I actually want murderers, rapists, burglars, etc. locked up. They don’t belong in society at large. That means that occasionally someone will get locked up that doesn’t deserve it. Out of a country of 300M people, it’s simply going to happen. The correct response isn’t to open the prison doors and let everybody out. The correct response is to find out why and figure out how to keep that from happening again.

    Unfortunately, we’ve given most of the criminal justice system immunity from prosecution, and thus removed any incentive to keep it from happening again. But that’s a different problem to solve.

  16. #16 |  pam | 

    “Though no enemy could destroy them, they could not guard against themselves”-Eragon

  17. #17 |  Andrew Williams | 

    I’m not disgusted because I knew this years ago. As somebody recently quoted Orwell, “We have always been at war with Eastasia.” Any evidence to the contrary goes down the memory hole/circular file.

    Cheney are IMHO psychopathic personalities, and to PP’s, the end ALWAYS justifies the means. The famous Lord Acton quote fits here too.

  18. #18 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It’s uncanny how, in putting its best foot forward, the U.S. government always manages to step in a fresh steaming pile of shit.

  19. #19 |  Scott | 

    A “top aide” to the Secretary of State does not a “senior member of the Bush Administration” make. Wilkerson is probably a career bureaucrat who finds himself without a job, but with a grudge.

    As for Colin Powell: though a true patriot as a General, and a great Nat’l Security Advisor, has no credibility after endorsing Obama based solely on his skin color, when the only commonality that Powell and Obama share is their opinion on abortion.

    This all just smells like Wilkerson is fishing for appearance fees on MSNBC, the Today Show and Larry King.

  20. #20 |  Moe | 

    I’m just waiting to see what major US News outlet picks this up and makes a big deal of it. So far none that I see when I search google for it. Guess they aren’t gonna rock the boat.

  21. #21 |  Radley Balko | 

    This all just smells like Wilkerson is fishing for appearance fees on MSNBC, the Today Show and Larry King.

    The chief of staff to the Sec. of State isn’t a senior member of the administration?

    And Wilkerson’s allegations have quite a bit of backing in fact. Three-quarters of the original 700+ Gitmo detainees actually were innocent, that the Bush administration kept them at Gitmo for years anyway, and the White House fought like hell to prevent any judicial or congressional oversight of the entire fiasco.

    I don’t know why Powell endorsed Obama. Maybe he saw enough shit in the Bush administration to have not wanted another Weekly Standard-endorsed warmonger in the White House.

  22. #22 |  MassHole | 


    The internet is your friend. Instead of making assumptions about Wilkerson’s career, you can actually read up on it:

  23. #23 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Maybe he saw enough shit in the Bush administration to have not wanted another Weekly Standard-endorsed warmonger in the White House.

    So, we got all the same minus the Weekly Standard endorsement?

  24. #24 |  Kafkaesque doesn’t even begin to describe it § Unqualified Offerings | 

    […] because the public might start to question the case for war and all of the other shenanigans.  Via Radley Balko. I hope there’s a legal mechanism for the innocent detainees to personally sue Bush, Cheney, […]

  25. #25 |  Deoxy | 

    Let me see if I get this straight. The policy of paying the locals for members of the Taliban (without any way of determining if they were members or not other than the word of the people who were getting money out of the deal) was really dumb.

    We took those people from the warzone, kept them safe and well-fed for 1-4 years, then let them go. Some of them probably got interrogated, and a few of those interrogations may have been rougher than most people would like**.

    If that’s all it takes for “us” to be “the enemy”, then you will never find an “us” that isn’t the “enemy”.

    Was it done badly? Sure. Would it have been better not to have taken those guys in in the first place? Probably – at least, not with a simple “huge pile of cash for nameless idiot you want to get rid of or get even with over that poker game last week” program. Was it injust to at least most of the people we took? Yes, as best I can tell, it most certainly was.

    But bloody crap! There are actual abuses of civilians inside our own borders that make this look like model citizen behaviour!

    By any standard of war in human history, the only remarkable thing about this program was that we fed them well, didn’t ACTUALLY torture them, and let them go when we were done.

    If you use “we have met the enemy and he is us” on some small little thing like this (wars typically have MUCH MUCH worse abuses to mention, on both sides – war is a terrible thing), what do you have left to say when REAL abuses happen?!?

    Heck, I’d say what happened with Corey Maye was worse than this, or at least as bad. Warzone screw-ups usually end up with a large body count – warzone COVERUPS usually end up with a large INNOCENT body count. This did neither.

    I really like your stuff (well, in a “making my blood boil at the injustice of the world” sort of way – it’s certainly very informative!), I generally agree with most of what you say, but your response here, even given that it’s as bad as it’s being made out (and Gitmo stuff has a LONG history of being ridiculously exaggerated or just plain made up – “flushing a Koran” ring a bell?), is way over the top.

    ** Either they were obviously innocent and thus a lousy target of interrogation, such that they were not seriously interrogated, at least not with the harsher methods, or they were NOT obviously innocent, and this whole post is moot. Or you believe that the interrogations (which such a person would probably refer to as “torture”, including the ones where they offered them an extra comfy chair and food to order) were simply conducted on them anyway for the sheer joy of it, in which case I doubt we can have any rational discourse.

  26. #26 |  Wilkerson: Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld Knew About Innocent Detainees At Gitmo | 

    […] Knapp | Friday, April 9, 2010 Via Radley Balko, it appears that former Powell aide Colonel Lawrence Wilkinson has singed what I assume to be a […]

  27. #27 |  deadcenter | 

    For more information regarding the detention and rendition program, check out “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals” by Jane Mayer.

  28. #28 |  Kevin | 

    I like to think us libertarians are more sensible and less prone to cognitive dissonance than others. Since when did one person’s assertions, no matter how credible they may seem on the surface, be taken as absolute fact? If this was an article extolling the virtues of big government, it would taken apart and shredded in these forums for it’s lack of facts and its clear one-sided, misleading nature.

    The most telling part of the article is that is implies it has obtained a new document that shows all of the subsequent assertions to be true, but this document is simply a written statement by one person. They don’t list the date of the document, nor do they discuss any facts, such is how Colonel Wilkerson came by this information. It also presents itself as new information when in fact Colonel Wilkerson has been a vocal critic of these issues for years: In fact, he made these claims in an article he wrote in the Washington Note on March 17 2010. This article is much better than the one quoted above, since it is written by Wilkerson himself.

    Interestingly, at the beginning of his article he says he “is chairman of the New America Foundation” but he shows up on their site as “former staff”. He contributed one article on their site in 2007. It appears he is capable of a bit of embellishment.

    I suspect there is some truth to the assertions in the article (it *may* all be true), but none if it is substantiated. Some of it sounds completely illogical. For example, if the US was paying “up to” 5,000 USD (a lot of money over there) for prisoners without any evidence of who they were or why they were captured, I think there would have been far more detainees, so I just don’t buy it. This is not to say the system was not flawed, but attempts to conjure up the image of long lines of bounty hunters turning in a bunch of innocent SOBs without any process makes my BS detector go off.

  29. #29 |  hamburglar007 | 


    You dumb shit. Plenty of them were tortured. Also being imprisoned for years is okay because you are well fed? You are probably right, because it isn’t like these people have loved ones or property or enjoying activities outside the confines of a prison. In fact you should probably volunteer yourself to be locked up cause it ain’t so bad.

  30. #30 |  Steve | 

    @Radley Balko (#21) I don’t know why Powell endorsed Obama. Maybe he saw enough shit in the Bush administration to have not wanted another Weekly Standard-endorsed warmonger in the White House.

    Powell could have refused to endorse either. Had he endorsed someone like Lieberman or even Hillary Clinton, he could at least offer a halfway sensible justification. But I just cannot see any reason to endorse the guy who has done more to harm our economy (stimulus, HCR, and perhaps Cap+Trade) and taken away our economic liberties (HCR & potential Cap+Trade) than anyone since FDR. (FWIW, Bush the Younger drove up deficits at an obscene rate, so he’d be close behind Obama in that regard.)

    As far as foreign policy: Iraq – still there. Afghanistan – escalating. Gitmo – still open.

    Outside of the passions of an election, one has the advantage to look more objectively at facts, rather than making gut-reaction decisions on the ridiculous notion that one must pick Coke or Pepsi. Those who feared McCain as significantly more of the warmongering variety than Obama have to deal with the reality that Obama’s foreign policy is not the quantum leap forward anyone expected.

    Curiously, the only candidate who said he would bring home the troops right away was a Republican: Ron Paul.

  31. #31 |  Mattocracy | 

    “We took those people from the warzone, kept them safe and well-fed for 1-4 years, then let them go. Some of them probably got interrogated, and a few of those interrogations may have been rougher than most people would like**.”

    Ya know, the more I think about, the better it sounds. Three meals a day! Safe and secure from a war zone! Sign me up! Fuck, they could simulate me drowning and I’d still have a ball. I’d probably forget all about my loved ones, never miss them, and never ever fear that I was going to die a lonely miserable death.

    You are the smartest person who has ever commented here. Please come back and give us more gems like this.

  32. #32 |  zendingo | 

    seriously? seriously? on top of the fact that most are completely innocent of anything other than being an afgan walking, they were tortured. some were tortured to death, but hey they got three squares a day and survived, it’s not like we’re trying to win hearts and minds or anything.

  33. #33 |  Kevin | 


    Deoxy did not seem to be defending the actions, simply applying a little perspective regarding the dramatically presented point of view that we are the enemy because of what may have happened.

    You say “Plenty of them were tortured”. The fact that you prefaced this claim with a little name-calling did not really convince me your claim has veracity. How many is plenty? How many innocents were in gitmo, and how many of them were tortured?

    Just because this is not an easy question to answer (and there should be a lot more transparency now with the new administration) does not mean we should assume the numbers must be large, but that seems to be what folks are doing.

  34. #34 |  BamBam | 

    People turned over to make some cash that requires no proof… sounds like the good ‘ol USA has used the military to extend its snitching operations to the rest of the world, which operate here EXACTLY THE SAME WAY.

  35. #35 |  buzz | 

    Well hell, if that one guy who kept his job and didnt say anything until now says ths is what happened, then clearly thats what happened and we should string everyone up! I see your standard of evidence is greatly reduced thant say someone in Mississippi had been accused. But since its just the former President and his administration then this is all the evidence needed. To the trees!

  36. #36 |  André | 

    So why haven’t we sent Bush to Guantanámo to be waterboarded 183 times in one month to see if he knows anything about the actions of enemies of America?

    By “enemies of America”, I’m referring to Dick Cheney.

  37. #37 |  Chuck C | 

    “How many is plenty?”


    “How many innocents were in gitmo”

    50-70%, according to the Marine BG who ran the detention and interrogation facilities when they were opened.

    “and how many of them were tortured?”

    If any were, that’s too many.

  38. #38 |  John Markley | 


    “We took those people from the warzone, kept them safe and well-fed for 1-4 years, then let them go. Some of them probably got interrogated, and a few of those interrogations may have been rougher than most people would like.“

    And the “put the lotion in the basket” guy from Silence of the Lambs gave young women a break from the day-to-day stress of the rat race, provided them with shelter, and introduced them to new employment in the garment manufacturing industry. He’s a modern-day Jane Addams!

  39. #39 |  albatross | 

    Deoxy: I can assure you that sticking me or anyone I care about into that hellhole for a few years, with apparent disregard for whether I was even guilty, would win you a permanent spot on my list of enemies, right up near the top.

    This principle also applies to things like using flying killer robots to blow up weddings, or shooting at a van full of kids when his dad makes an ill-advised attempt to take some wounded guy to the hospital. Really, doing this stuff makes people not like you. This sometimes has consequences.

  40. #40 |  albatross | 

    Yes, we kept people we knew were innocent in detention for a decade. Almost certainly, we tortured a bunch of them. We may even have murdered a couple under torture (see Scott Horton’s stuff on the Houdini-like Guantanamo suicides). Similarly, we appear to have rendered innocent people off to Egypt where they were tortured, to have kidnapped innocent people and shipped them off to secret prisons where they were tortured, killed truckloads of people wrongly and then done our best to hide the evidence, etc.

    But no powerful person will ever be called to account for this. Nobody above the rank of captain will ever personally face any consequences. Because that’s not the kind of country we are.

  41. #41 |  GreginOz | 

    To borrow from Walt Kelly, and adapt “The rest of the world has met the enemy…and it is the United State of America Government”. New American Century my left nut.

  42. #42 |  Agent Smith | 

    This needs to be investigated in more depth. Right now I think Lawrence Wilkerson is lying.

  43. #43 |  Time for a Truth Commission « ThinkMarkets | 

    […] suggesting “George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent.’”  (HT: Radley Balko)  Supposedly, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were all in on it.  “The accusations were made by […]

  44. #44 |  Time for a Truth Commission | 

    […] on evidence suggesting “George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent.’” (HT: Radley Balko) Supposedly, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were all in on it. “The accusations were made by Lawrence […]

  45. #45 |  The Times Of London Finds A Document « Around The Sphere | 

    […] Radley Balko: To borrow from Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy, and he is us. […]

  46. #46 |  David | 

    It is nearly 2 years since the most recent comment. Cheney has been on a book tour, admitting that waterboarding was used and he knew about it and yes he’d do it again. I watched an interview with an interrogator & he was pretty clear that no credible, useful info was ever got as a result of waterboarding. The proponents try to claim that intelligence which led to Osama was from this technique. However, the fact is that his whereabouts were known months before waterboarding was done. Furthermore, simulated drowning has been described as simply drowning with intervention before death. As has been long established, even a completely innocent person will say anything, sign anything, lie about anything to make torture stop. This is probably why the info gathered this way should always be suspect. Better yet, don’t do it. We signed international agreements that torture is NEVER justified. Any country who is a signer of the agreement is obligated to detain and see that the accused are brought to justice. This is why Bush2 cancelled a trip to Sweden when he found out that folks there clamoring for him to be arrested if he showed up.

    I have seen interviews with Wilkerson and find him very credible. I have no doubt that he was extremely conflicted. He had a close relationship with Powell and a long career in the military. Ultimately, he couldn’t justify staying silent and came forward. One can argue that he was remiss in not coming forward sooner but I applaud him for doing it at all. It took courage to set aside your lifelong commitment to the military and to the GOP to stand against the administration and your Commander in Chief in order to defend the principles that our country is supposed to represent.

    I find the apologists for kidnapping, torture and indefinite detention of innocent people, well, I find it troubling. It smacks of racism, in that the very same people would be outraged if it were white men snatched by the hundreds, detained without due process and tortured to find out if they knew anything of value and kept even when it was determined that they were innocent. To imagine that somehow they couldn’t possibly value their freedom, family and country as much as, who, you? Just sayin’

  47. #47 |  Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld: Worse than you thought | Miscellaneous Heathen | 

    […] Check it out: […]