August 2, 2007

A Story the AP Plays Down: Released Guantanamo Inmates Return to Battlefield

By David Paulin

The alleged torture of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay prison has been a rallying cry for the anti-war and anti-American left. It’s been a career-making story for reporters, too – especially for those from the Associated Press.

By making regular visits to Guantanamo and later filing Freedom of Information (FOI) actions, AP reporters based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, dug up a shocking litany of headline-making abuses in early 2005. Two staffers from the AP's Caribbean bureau at the time, news editor Paisley Dodds and and bureau chief Michelle Faul, produced some harrowing tales of abuse at Guantanamo.

One of Faul’s articles suggested that a “wide variety of detainees” were not even terrorists. Citing information cherry-picked from hundreds of pages of official documents – obtained through FOI actions against the U.S. government – Faul wrote of hapless innocents whom crafty Pakastani tribesmen “sold” to unwitting Americans for “bounties” of $3,000 to $25,000. These allegations were unsupported -- though Faul put great stock in them.

And there were shocking tales of sordid sexual abuse of upright Muslim detainees. In an article that attracted wide attention, Dodds wrote: “Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account."

Terror Chicks Gone Wild,” wrote New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, citing Dodd’s work. Dodds' story also had a big impact on Andrew Sullivan, the conservative gay blogger and author. Tales of “fake menstrual blood” apparently put him over the edge -- turning him into “a fervent supporter of the 'rights' of terrorists,” the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto observed in telling commentary in his online column.

Interestingly, revelations of hot torture chicks were not gleaned from FOI documents. They were from a book manuscript Dodds obtained that was stamped “secret.” The classification was in effect, she explained, “pending a Pentagon review for a planned book that details ways the U.S. military used women as part of tougher physical and psychological interrogation tactics to get terror suspects to talk.”

The manuscript offers “the most revealing account so far of interrogations at the secretive detention camp, where officials say they have halted some controversial techniques,” she wrote.

How did Dodds obtain classified materials whose publication – according to a recent Justice Department ruling – could land her and other AP staffers in prison? It came from none other than the manuscript's author, former Army Sgt. Erik Saar, then 29. In her story, Dodds claimed that he “didn't provide the manuscript or approach AP, but confirmed the authenticity of nine draft pages AP obtained.”

Context is everything. And these revelations must be put into the context of a Guantanamo story that the AP and other media outlets have not wanted to hype. It's that many released Guantanamo detainees have returned to the battlefield.

In a recent story, The Age of Australia reported:

"At least 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have been killed or recaptured after taking up arms against allied forces following their release.

"They have been discovered mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not in Iraq, a US Defence Department spokesman told The Age yesterday.

"Commander Jeffrey Gordon said the detainees had, while in custody, falsely claimed to be farmers, truck drivers, cooks, small-arms merchants, low-level combatants or had offered other false explanations for being in Afghanistan.

"We are aware of dozens of cases where they have returned to militant activities, participated in anti-US propaganda or engaged in other activities," said Commander Gordon."

He added, "These former detainees successfully lied to U.S. officials, sometimes for over three years. Common cover stories include going to Afghanistan to buy medicines, to teach the Koran or to find a wife. Many of these stories appear so often, and are subsequently proven false, that we can only conclude that they are part of their terrorist training."

Of course, there’s a big story here – one that might be summed up in a headline: “Incompetent U.S. Officials Release Terrorists.”

But don’t expect the AP to write it.

There's another context, as well, that's missing here. Gruesome beheadings and unspeakable torture is being undertaken in Iraq and elsewhere in the Islamic world on a regular basis. This is real torture. Yet no AP reporters work themselves into frenzy over such atrocities. Perhaps it would be hard to do. After all, no FOI requests can be made in places like Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Palestinian territories, and insurgent-controlled parts of Iraq.

Dodds, incidentally, went on to win at least two separate awards for her Guantanamo reporting. And she got a promotion: London bureau chief. As to Faul, she went onto head the AP’s news operations in Johannesburg, South Africa (although it's debatable as to whether that was a promotion).

Scandal pays – especially when it’s U.S. scandals that are being uncovered.

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