Washington: A key aide of former US secretary of state Colin Powell has said that former US president George W Bush, his vice-president Dick Cheney and former defence minister Donald Rumsfeld knew that some of the prisoners incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp were innocent.
The Times quotes Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson as saying in a new document that Bush decided not to release them out of fear that it would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror.
Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Cheney and Rumsfeld, saying both knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantanamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.
General Powell, who left the Bush administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.
Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured.
He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to USD 5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.
Referring to Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent ... If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”
He added: “I discussed the issue of the Guantanamo detainees with secretary Powell. I learnt that it was his view that it was not just vice president Cheney and secretary Rumsfeld, but also president Bush who was involved in all of the Guantanamo decision making.”
A spokesman for Bush said there was no need to comment on Colonel Wilkerson’s allegations, while a former associate to Rumsfeld said that Wilkerson`s assertions were completely untrue.