The White House has described as "unfortunate" the decision by news organisations to publish classified U.S. military files that showed the U.S. had released dozens of "high-risk" detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison facility and held more than 150 innocent men for years.
The more than 700 classified files reportedly come from the Pentagon's Joint Task Force at Guantanamo. They were originally leaked to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and made available to a number of U.S. and European media outlets, including the Telegraph, The New York Times, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and La Repubblica.
In the papers, the U.S. government assesses the alleged terrorist activities of Al Qaeda operatives housed at the U.S. Navy's detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including those captured as the terror group grew stronger in Afghanistan in the 1990s and prepared for the 9/11 attacks, CNN reports.
The files — called Detainee Assessment Briefs or DABs — reportedly describe the security intelligence value of nearly every one of the 779 detainees held at Guantanamo since 2002, describing how they behaved while at Guantanamo and assessing whether they would be a threat to the U.S. and its allies if released.
The classified files described some of the detainees as being compliant while others threatened violence against guards. One stated he would fly planes into houses.
More than 160 of the prisoners released or transferred from Guantanamo under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had previously been judged as "likely to pose a threat to the U.S.," NPR reports.
The decision to release or transfer those detainees contradicted the Pentagon's own recommendation that prisoners in this category should remain in detention.
Overall, U.S. military analysts considered only 220 of the people ever detained at Guantanamo to be dangerous extremists, The Daily Telegraph reported. Another 380 people were deemed to be low-ranking foot soldiers who traveled to Afghanistan or were part of the Taliban.
At least 150 detainees were innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including drivers, farmers and chefs rounded up as part of frantic intelligence gathering in war zones and then held for years. In dozens of cases, senior U.S. commanders reportedly concluded that there is "no reason recorded for transfer."
Officials at Guantanamo acknowledged in writing in at least two cases that they were holding innocent men, yet it took months for them to be returned to their home countries, according to NPR.
In what could amount to more than a diplomatic faux pas, which could further damage an already shaky U.S.-Pakistani intelligence partnership, the secret files also describe the main Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, as a terrorist organization, alongside Al Qaeda, the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, The Guardian reports.
Among the other findings in the classified documents:
— Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Guantanamo detainees who were famously water boarded while in CIA detention, are cited as providing interrogators with information about hundreds of other Guantanamo detainees.
— One detainee from Yemen, a convicted drug dealer who later affiliated with Al Qaeda, informed on so many of his fellow detainees at Guantanamo that authorities there decided the reliability of his information was "in question."
— A Russian detainee was transferred to the control of Russian authorities on the basis of assurances he would be incarcerated back in Russia, only to be released from Russian custody a short time later.
— A Saudi detainee, who has since been transferred, threatened to arrange the murder of "four or five" Americans in revenge for his imprisonment but offered not to follow through on the threat if he were paid $5 to $15 million dollars in compensation for his unemployment while at Guantanamo.