The Guantanamo Files: The Story of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. In Andy Worthington’s The Guantanamo Files, the whole story of the Cuban camp emerges as a ghastly experiment in which the terrorist suspects became guinea pigs in a vast experiment of methods to crack the human soul. [This] is a powerful, essential and long-overdue piece of research, providing the first real Who’s Who of those held at the Cuban base. –Stephen Grey, New Statesman
In March 2009, I published a four-part list identifying all 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, which I updated in January this year. To keep up with developments over the last six months, I have now updated it again, and the four parts of the list are available here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.
As I explained when I first compiled the list, the original product of my research was my book The Guantánamo Files, in which, based on an exhaustive analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon (plus other sources), I related the story of Guantánamo, established a chronology explaining where and when the prisoners were seized, told the stories of around 450 of these men (and boys), and provided a context for the circumstances in which the remainder of the prisoners were captured.
The list provides references to the chapters in The Guantánamo Files where the prisoners’ stories can be found, and also provides numerous links to the hundreds of articles that I have written over the last three years, for a variety of publications, expanding on and updating the stories of all 779 prisoners. In particular, I have covered the stories of the 199 prisoners released from Guantánamo between June 2007 and May 2010 in unprecedented depth, as well as the 50 prisoners whose habeas corpus petitions have been the subject of rulings in the District Court in Washington D.C. (see “Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List” for links to all my articles, and to the judges’ rulings). I also covered the stories of the 27 prisoners charged in Guantánamo’s Military Commission trial system under the Bush administration (and have covered the handful of cases revived, falteringly, by President Obama) in more detail than is, or was available from most, if not all other sources.
In addition, the list also includes links to the 12 online chapters, published between November 2007 and February 2009 (see the links in the left-and column), in which I told the stories of over 250 prisoners that I was unable to include in the book (either because they were not available at the time of writing, or to keep the book at a manageable length).
As a result — and notwithstanding the fact that the New York Times had made a list of documents relating to each prisoner available online — I maintain that I am justified in stating that the list is “the most comprehensive list ever published of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo,” providing details of the 591 prisoners released (and the dates of their release), and the 181 prisoners still held (including information on those cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration or by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), for the same reason that my book provides what I have been told is an unparalleled introduction to Guantánamo and the stories of the men held there: because it provides a much-needed context for these stories that is difficult to discern in the Pentagon’s documents without detailed analysis.
This update to the four parts of the list draws on the 150+ articles that I have published in the last six months, tracking the Obama administration’s lamentable failure to close the prison as promised, to thoroughly repudiate the Bush administration’s policies, and to hold anyone accountable for introducing torture as official policy. Throughout this period, I have reported the stories of the 17 prisoners released, and have also covered the habeas petitions in unprecedented detail. I am pleased to report that 37 habeas cases have now been won by the prisoners (out of 51 in total), but I remain concerned that the District Court judges are obliged to approve the ongoing detention of soldiers at Guantánamo, when they should be held as prisoners of war, and I’m also disappointed that President Obama has only released 59 prisoners since he took office.
Of the 181 prisoners who remain, 97 have been approved for release by the Task Force and 35 are scheduled to face trials, but 48 others have been designated as suitable for indefinite detention without charge or trial — a distressing development that may well mark the nadir of President Obama’s promise to mark any kind of meaningful change from his predecessor. One other man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, is serving a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission in 2008 (although his sentence is being appealed), and another — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — was transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial in May 2009, before Congress descended into the kind of cynical scaremongering that regards trial for terrorists — and respect for the Constitution — as somehow quaint and obsolete.
As for my intention, it remains the same as it did when I first published the list. As I explained at the time:
It is my hope that this project will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as “illegal enemy combatants.”
I also hope that it provides a compelling explanation of how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held — at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.
To this I would only add that, nearly a year and a half after President Obama took office, I hope that the list and its references provide a useful antidote to the administration’s apparent paralysis, and to the cynical scaremongering of lawmakers that I outlined above.
Nearly six months on from President Obama’s failure to close Guantánamo by his self-imposed deadline of January 22, 2010, it now seems almost inconceivable that so many of us once thought it possible, because of the extent to which the administration has lost its purpose, and the extent to which lawmakers (and media pundits) delight in channeling the lies and distortions of former Vice President Dick Cheney, with an arrogant disregard for how ridiculous this appears to the rest of the world.
Six months ago, I mentioned that there was no reason for complacency. That was perhaps optimistic, as now I can only exhort those who oppose torture, arbitrary detention and political bankruptcy to resist despair. However, as the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, it remains imperative — for those of us who call for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, federal court trials for terrorists and accountability for those who authorized torture — that we maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo, and to charge or release the prisoners held there, as swiftly as possible.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.