WASHINGTON — Innocent bystanders locked up for no reason, Al-Qaeda militants released to commit new atrocities: WikiLeaks has poured light on the "original sin" of Guantanamo, activists and experts say.
Documents released by the whistleblowing website show a system riddled with errors and botched assessments that have helped lead floundering efforts to shutter the facility on the southern tip of Cuba into a legal quagmire.
"These documents are remarkable because they show just how questionable the government's basis has been for detaining hundreds of people, in some cases indefinitely, at Guantanamo," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.
"The one-sided assessments are rife with uncorroborated evidence, information obtained through torture, speculation, errors and allegations that have been proven false," the rights group said.
"The documents are the fruit of the original sin by which the rule of law was scrapped when Guantanamo detainees were first rounded up."
For military justice expert Eugene Fidell, the documents prove not only that the detentions were unjust but also that they were ineffective militarily.
"What becomes clear is the amateur quality of the interrogations and the chaotic nature of the work that was done during interrogations," he told AFP.
"They would have been a lot better off had they done what the Geneva conventions require in case of doubt, which is hold an inquiry, hold a so-called competent tribunal on or near the battlefield."
David Glazier, from the Loyola School of Law in Chicago, said the WikiLeaks files showed the need to catalogue relevant data at the time of capture and have adequate screening processes in place.
But, he added: "What it says ultimately is that there is no way to assess properly the dangerousness of anybody you randomly captured on the battlefield."
For the 172 inmates who remain at Guantanamo, "the damage is done," Fidell said. "(Officials) are doing the only things they can do, they are taking a very hard look at the people who are left."
In one of his first acts upon taking office in January 2009, President Barack Obama promised to shutter the facility within a year, saying it epitomized all that was wrong with his predecessor's "war on terror."
Determined to right the wrongs of president George W. Bush's administration, he set up a working group to review the files of the 240 inmates still being held.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group, is calling on the Obama administration to publish its own findings, revealing who has been designated for trial, who will be released, and who will be held indefinitely.
"Without names and details of cases where the administration claims it needs to detain individuals without charges or trial, it will continue to be impossible to have any meaningful public debate about the wisdom of such a policy," it said.
The ACLU struck a similar tone, saying: "It's not too late to change course.
"We need more legal process, not less, to make sure we're holding the right people. The cases of the remaining Guantanamo detainees cry out for independent judicial review," it said.
Benjamin Wittes, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, suggested building and adhering to systems of justice that "reflect an appreciation of the uncertainty inherent in this sort of exercise.
"We need to accept that we will detain people whose detentions we will come to regret, and we will release people whose releases we will come to regret. We should not pretend when either happens that certainty was possible."
The Obama administration has been back-pedaling on Guantanamo pretty hard recently, although it insists it would still like to close the facility as soon as possible.
Many remaining inmates are of Yemeni descent and there is an obvious reluctance to return even those considered "low-risk" to such a hotbed of Al-Qaeda militancy when the country is in the throes of a popular uprising.
Congress blocked the president from bringing accused terrorists to trial in federal courts in the United States, citing security concerns, so his attorney general reluctantly agreed to proceed with military tribunals at Guantanamo.
Legal questions on water-boarding and confessions allegedly extracted through torture abound.
The trials of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several alleged accomplices are likely to drag on for many years, extending the life of Guantanamo well beyond Obama's White House tenure.
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