Prisoner interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, the controversial U.S. military detention center where guards have been accused of brutality and torture, have not prevented a single terrorist attack, according to a senior Pentagon intelligence officer who worked at the heart of the U.S. war on terror. Lt. Col. Anthony Christino, who retired last June after 20 years in military intelligence, says that President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have "wildly exaggerated" their intelligence value.
Christino's revelations, to be published this week in "Guantánamo: America's War on Human Rights" by British journalist David Rose, are supported by three additional intelligence officials.
Christino also disclosed that the "screening" process in Afghanistan that determined whether detainees were sent to Guantánamo was "hopelessly flawed from the get-go." It was performed by new recruits who had almost no training and were forced to rely on incompetent interpreters. They were "far too poorly trained to identify real terrorists from the ordinary Taliban militia."
According to Christino, most of the approximately 600 detainees at Guantánamo -- including four Britons -- at worst had supported the Taliban in the civil war it had been fighting against the Northern Alliance before the Sept. 11 attacks, but had had no contact with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida.
For six months in the middle of 2003 until his retirement, Christino had regular access to material derived from Guantánamo prisoner interrogations, serving as senior watch officer for the central Pentagon unit known as the Joint Intelligence Task Force-Combating Terrorism. This made him responsible for every piece of information that went in or out of the unit, including what he describes as "analysis of critical, time-sensitive intelligence."
In his previous assignment in Germany, one of his roles had been to coordinate intelligence support to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, at Guantánamo, and to units responsible for transporting prisoners there.
Bush, Rumsfeld and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Guantánamo's former commandant, who is now in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, have repeatedly claimed that Guantánamo interrogations have provided "enormously valuable intelligence," thanks to a system of punishments, physical and mental abuse and rewards for cooperation, introduced by Miller and approved by Rumsfeld. In a speech in Miami, Rumsfeld said: "Detaining enemy combatants ... can help us prevent future acts of terrorism. It can save lives, and I am convinced it can speed victory.
Christino says Gen. Miller had never worked in intelligence before being assigned to Guantánamo, and his system seems almost calculated to produce entirely bogus confessions.
Earlier this year, three British released detainees -- Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and Rhuhel Ahmed -- revealed that they had all confessed to meeting bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, at a camp in Afghanistan in 2000. All had cracked after three months isolated in solitary confinement and interrogation sessions in chains that lasted up to 12 hours daily. Eventually, MI5 proved what the detainees had said initially -- that none had left the U.K. that year. Rasul had been working at a branch of Currys.
The book's disclosures come on the eve of a House of Lords appeal on the fate of the foreign terrorist suspects held without trial in British prisons. Tuesday, the Lords will determine whether it was lawful for the British government to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights to allow for the detention of the men at Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons. It is widely believed that some of the men are being held on evidence obtained from prisoners at Guantánamo. An officer from MI5 admitted under cross-examination by lawyers acting for the detainees that the British intelligence services would make use of information obtained under torture by foreign governments.
A high court appeal in August found that it was lawful for the British government to use information obtained under torture by foreign governments to avert an imminent attack, but there was no evidence that it had done so in the case of the detainees held in British jails.
Speaking at a meeting at the Labor Party conference last week, Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer backed the decision of the court but said it was "an almost impossible ethical question." While emphasizing that Britain repudiated the use of torture, he said: "We cannot condone torture, but the basis of those incarcerations is protection of other people. If we thought that 'X' was going to blow up the Tube and we thought that information was obtained by a foreign intelligence service, can we really say that we can't detain people because that information was obtained by torture?
"That's the dilemma the government is faced with. The courts have taken the view as a matter of law that we are entitled to rely on it, and I have the awful feeling that is probably the right conclusion."