WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s ongoing release of the Guantanamo Bay prison files, and large numbers of classified State Department cables, attempts to expose what he calls American corruption.
But supporters of the George W. Bush administration’s global war on terrorism say the nearly 800 Guantanamo files show that “enhanced” interrogations of hundreds of captured operatives at secret overseas prisons and at the Cuban prison amounted to one of the most successful intelligence operations in history.
Before the interrogations, the U.S. knew little about al Qaeda in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Years later, the CIA and military had accumulated a large database of ongoing plots and the identities of terrorists, the WikiLeaks files show.
“The WikiLeaks documents provide still additional evidence that intelligence gained from CIA detainees not only helped lead us to Osama bin Laden, it helped us disrupt a number of follow-on attacks that had been set in motion after 9/11,” said Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter.
“Without this program, we would not have gone nearly 10 years without another catastrophic attack on the homeland. This is quite possibly the most important, and most successful, intelligence program in modern times. But instead of medals, the people behind this program have been given subpoenas.”
He was referring to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s launch of a criminal investigation of CIA officers who conducted the “enhanced” interrogations, some of which the Obama administration has dubbed “torture.”
The killing of Osama bin Laden underscores the value of the vast intelligence database. The treasure trove of information includes the identities of terrorists operating abroad, plots to kill civilians and details on how al Qaeda used a network of couriers for clandestine communication.
Public disclosure of the interrogation windfall began in April by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, which obtained hundreds of classified U.S. reports on detainees written by Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the military unit in charge of the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
As of Thursday, WikiLeaks had released 765 of 779 Gitmo files.
The files show that prisoner Abu Farajal al-Libi, al Qaeda’s No. 3 and a close aide to bin Laden, first disclosed the terrorist master’s special courier to the CIA. It was the agency’s ability to find and track the messenger that ultimately led a team of Navy SEALs to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed early on May 2.
Supporters of sending terrorist suspects to Guantanamo Bay — which the Obama administration has vowed to shutter, though its initial deadline has come and gone — for trials at military commissions say the prison provided a single collection point to assess and cross-check intelligence on an enemy the United States knew little about.
“We learned a tremendous amount about the operation, not only in Afghanistan but the organizational structure and how they were operating outside the immediate combat area, for example in Europe,” said retired Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway, the Pentagon’s top legal adviser to the commissions’ office during Guantanamo’s early days.
Gen. Hemingway recalled a case when the military command in Afghanistan was looking for a senior Taliban commander. Interrogators found a detainee who knew the suspect. The detainee drew a diagram of his compound. Aerial surveillance located the home and led to the commander’s capture.
“There was a lot of actionable intelligence that was developed down there for a long time,” Gen. Hemingway said.
Hunt for bin Laden