(CBS/AP) A former State Department lawyer tells The Associated Press that the Bush administration panicked after 9/11 and tortured prisoners.
Former President George W. Bush denied anyone was tortured. But Vijay Padmanabhan is at least the second insider to publicly describe as torture the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the U.S.
Padmanabhan was the department’s chief counsel on Guantanamo litigation. He says it was “foolish” for the Bush administration to declare that detainees were beyond the reach of U.S. and international laws and the Geneva Conventions.
He told the AP Friday that “Guantanamo was one of the worst overreactions of the Bush administration.”
Last week, another former official in the Bush State Department publicly criticized the administration for its Guantanamo policies.
Lawrence B. Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, said many detainees locked up in the prison camp were innocent swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants
“There are still innocent people there,” Wilkerson told The Associated Press. “Some have been there six or seven years.”
Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a “mosaic” of intelligence.
“It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance,” Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather “sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.”
Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, said vetting on the battlefield during the early stages of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was incompetent with no meaningful attempt to discriminate “who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney fought efforts to address the situation, Wilkerson said, because “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership.”
Wilkerson told the AP in a telephone interview that many detainees “clearly had no connection to al Qaeda and the Taliban and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pakistanis turned many over for $5,000 a head.”
Some 800 men have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and 240 remain. Wilkerson said two dozen are terrorists, including confessed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody in September 2006.