2011-04-27 Interview w/ investigative journo, Jason Leopold, about the latest #WikiLeaks release & #Guantanamo

Image Jason Leopold is the deputy managing editor of Truthout.org and a co-founder of The Public Record.

As an investigative journalist he has written extensively on the Guantanamo Bay detention and torture camp, Enron, and the Military. The list goes on.

In February 2011, Leopold interview Australian David Hicks, a former Guantanamo detainee. It was Hicks' first interview about the torture and abuse he endured at Guantanamo, and his struggle with the injustice of US ex-judicial processes.

Leopold and his colleague, Jeffrey Kaye, have also investigated medical experiments at Guantanamo and psychological techniques used to design Bush's torture program.

His work has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Salon, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Alternet, Z Magazine, Earth Island Journal, Homeland Security Today, and numerous other national and international publications.

Leopold was the recipient of the Project Censored award two times for his investigative work on Halliburton and Enron. He was awarded the Thomas Jefferson award by The Military Religious Freedom Foundation for a series of stories on the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. Military.

You can find him on twitter at @JasonLeopold.

What is particularly unique about the documents from the latest Wikileaks’ release?

These documents are unique because they actually confirm long held suspicions about the use of informants…the fact that many of the detainees…in fact the majority of the detainees…were simply innocent individuals, who were sold to the US for bounty.

They also confirm that the US military, frankly, was…they really had no idea what they were doing. I think that they were making it up as they went along.

The intelligence of these documents...if that is what some people want to call it…is highly suspicious.

Much of it has been...in certain cases…has been debunked a long time ago…I mean we are already talking about ten years into Guantanamo.

So, I think what is really, really important about these documents is that it shines a light on the crimes...and that is really what they are...the crime committed by the United States government…and in some cases…some of its allies in the name of national security in the ‘War on Terror’.

And, I think that, that is really ultimately what's crucial…that people should take away from this…

There are some individuals who the US caught that are...that should be held...but I don't mean held in the sense of being held indefinitely.

They literally just swept people up and tried to figure out who were the ones they wanted, so to speak.

What I mean is that they took all these...they just swept up people...you know...Muslims...they swept them all up...they brought them over to Guantanamo and they said, "Okay. In this big pile there is going to be a terrorist.”

What is really unique about the documents is that it shows how just a handful of detainees were providing information on a bulk of other detainees…or a majority of other detainees…and that the US used that as evidence that these individuals were Al Qaeda.

I think it shows that in terms of Al Qaeda, we are talking…maybe thirty people.

You have been covering Guantanamo for a very long time. So you pretty good perspective on the coverage leading up to this particular leak. How would you describe the coverage in the American press about Guantanamo prior to the leak?

I think the coverage in the US media has been terrible.

Certainly, there are a handful of reporters that do a really good job, who work for mainstream publications...who a do a good job in terms of what they are covering.

But, for the most part, the coverage has awful.

When you depend heavily on the Pentagon for information...for talking point...it obviously becomes difficult to tell the real story.

I think that the media has not done enough digging. Has not actually gone out and tried to pull out some of the harder stories out of Guantanamo.

Can you give me an example of one of those stories?

One story that I have focused heavily on is the experimentation aspect and what took place at Guantanamo.

Guantanamo has been called a ‘battle lab'.

That is how former military officials who were there described it to the Senate Armed Services Committee. They described it as a 'battle lab'.

And, what they mean was is that Guantanamo itself was an experiment. And, I think that is absolutely true.

I think that many of the things that took place at Guantanamo in terms of the type of torture…the video cameras that were there…watching the detainees...it wasn't just for security purposes.

I think that there were, based on my own investigation, there were far more nefarious purposes for the use of drugs…of many different things

So, I think that the horrific stories, and there are probably a lot of them, and some of them are missing, and so...dealing with stories like that...really puts a face o the whole effort...the whole war effort…the whole ‘War on Terror’.

And, those are the stories that I think are missing. The ones where you see how of the detainees have suffered.

Do you think these documents will make a difference in American coverage of Guantanamo?

I was very critical of one of the first stories that surfaced from The New York Times...that surfaced on Sunday evening.

I think that was a terrible story, because it is a story that was completely sanitized and lacked content.

So, you know, and that is obviously a publication that had these documents for quite a while. So, I was very disappointed with that.

I think that there certainly have been quite a number of good stories that have surfaced particularly from Carol Rosenberg. She is someone who has covered Guantanamo for a decade.

Ultimately, this is what’s really important about the documents. It will force people to continue talking about Guantanamo.

It will force, perhaps, resulting pressure being applied to lawmakers, the President…whether that pressure is by the United Nations of Human Rights groups.

The most important thing is that we continue to talk about this, and I think that, that is really what these documents will help with.

They will force the conversation to continue. And, it will change the narrative.

But, the administration...the Obama administration, frankly, for them not talking about this has probably been something, I am sure, they were very happy about...people moving on from it.

And, I think that the fact that the media is covering it in a critical way, currently at least…when I say the media, I actually want to single out newspapers like the Guardian, and some other foreign publications, because they are doing a great job.

So, I think ultimately that is what is important about this…that people continue talking about it, because lets face it…it’s not as if Guantanamo torture is on the front page of every newspaper…even though, I think, it should be…because we are talking about crimes. Crimes. War crimes, here.

I wonder about information availability versus coverage particularly in the American press and how these leaks will affect American perception and understanding of Guantanamo, and what if anything will manifest from that. Prior to this leak there was a plethora of information…incriminating information…already available.

I'll just mention, for example, the Senate Armed Services Committee report...one of the most explosive reports to come out of any sort of congressional official investigation into the way the US treated detainees in the custody of the Department of Defense.

It was a report that was released a couple of years ago by the Senate Armed Services Committee. That is a damning report.

It talks about the fact detainees where killed in US custody. Murdered. I am talking about murder.

I mean, this report talks about how the torture program was based on the US military's resistance to interrogation survival training technique.

Something that I had perhaps spent, perhaps, the past five months on and recently published a report about.

So, yes, you are absolutely right there are a number of documents and a number of reports that are out there. The problem is that people, and that includes some journalists, frankly don't take the time to read it.

You know, I recently just looked at that Senate Armed Services Committee report again, and it certainly takes on a new life with the release of these files.

I think, if you hold this report up...if you read that report along side reading the files of the detainees, you really come away with understanding perhaps how that so called intelligence…what the US identified in these files…how they obtained it…largely, it was through torture or other coercive interrogation methods.

There are so many components and so many individuals that contribute to the phenomenon of Guantanamo. When you look at all the documents pre and post leak, and having gone through so much of that...do you have a sense of what the rational for the system was or is?

You know, that’s a really, really great question.

I think that there are some people in the previous administration who believed that we need to lock up…to create a system outside of the law…outside of any US legal framework…and capture these prisoners and torture them to the point that they will tell us what we need to know about this massive terrorist organization…that we were told was Al Qaeda.

As I said earlier, one of the things about the documents that struck me was that it is not a massive organization.

At least in my eyes...the documents…are evidence of that.

But, it’s hard to tell what the motivations are for some people.

I mean Dick Cheney...look, this is a guy who signed off before he left office...this is man who admitted that he personally okayed the torture of nearly three-dozen detainees, and the water boarding of ‘high value’ detainees.

So, I think that after 9/11, the intelligence communities, particularly the CIA felt that they missed it. They missed…”How did they miss this? How did they miss understanding what they needed to know about this organization, Al Qaeda.”

As Dick Cheney said, they turned to the dark side. The gloves came off.

I think that for other people, Guantanamo truly was a ‘battle lab’. It was a laboratory. This was where certain types of psychological experiments take place.

My colleague [Jeffrey Kaye], who I have written extensively with on issues related to various types of experimentation that went on at Guantanamo...I mean he said that the documents show that there was psychological research taking place.

One thing in those documents that they continue to talk about is ‘exploiting the detainees’...exploitation.

You can see that they are trying to turn the detainees into informants…that they are trying to get them to be agents for the US government.

The rational is just...it’s really difficulty to provide one answer. I think that each individual has different answers.

I think that, there are some people in the previous administration, who just felt that these detainees are not human beings. They are animals. Truly...animals.

That they should be locked up outside of the law…so, we can do whatever we want with them.

It sort of brings me to another area...where very early on...this war...this ‘War on Terror’…and, we heard many previous officials in the former administration, the Bush administration rather, say that this was more or less a war with…basically Jesus versus Mohammed. Very much a religious war.

So, to circle back around to your question...it's just...it's very difficult to say what the rational was.

From the documents it appears that they made it up as they went along.

Looking at Guantanamo from an institutional perspective…on the local level the instincts at play seem have plenty of parallels... human beings looking at other human beings as sub-human or treating groups of people as second class citizens...

When I talked to my European friends about the latest Wikileaks release, they expressed an emphatic, "Well now your country can charge responsible parties with war crimes."

But, you and I can talk about war crimes that are evidenced, or that may be evidenced by these leaked documents and previous documents...by the actions and admissions of government officials…the reality is that being Americans in the Unites States...the likelihood that any crimes be brought to justice seems a stretch in terms of the political reality.

What we are describing here seems more akin to our former cold war enemy...something more Eastern block style...then, perhaps, we care to admit.

Those former regimes were champions of human rights on paper and by word, but not in deed...and the ideology that propped up and justified those system contradicted reality on the ground, but that very same ideology was a rational for the system to justify itself and its tyranny. So is that what we are dealing with here?

I agree. I mean I understand what you are saying. It's funny you talk about speaking to your European friends…”Perhaps the Bush administration should be brought up on war crimes”…you know, I think many people feel that way.

But that will never happen because no body has the political will to take that on.

And, in addition to that...look at the Obama administration preaching...preaching to Iran and China about human rights...Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating the other day that Syria, I believe, needs to stop detaining and torturing prisoners.

So we are very good at preaching...but we obviously can't practice what we preach. I just think that is why the detainees, they really looked as…I wouldn't say second class citizens...or third class…they were animals.

They were not human. And, it was very important for the Bush administration to make sure the public understood that these people were not human…and that was part of their whole campaign as well…if that makes sense.

It does. Have you followed the money? Terry Holdbrooks talked about Camp 7 being a privatized situation...do you know anything about the contractors that are down there? Or that have been down there?

Yes, I do. It’s very difficult to penetrate that.

Look, there were contractors there that set up the whole video monitoring system. A subsidiary of Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root, built the camps.

There are a number of contractors there. But, literally getting to the money aspect of it is difficult, because you are reliant on the government to some degree…to fulfill a ‘Freedom of Information Act Request’. Which, in some cases, they just won't do.

Was there a specific question that you had with regard to that?

As I said, I want to understand what the rational…the forces that drove its manifestation. I believe that, in a sense, Americans knew what was going on at Guantanamo...

I would actually beg to differ...I don't think Americans, the general public, actually is fully aware of what went on at Guantanamo.

Recently, I spent about five months investigating with my colleague, Jeffrey Kaye...we investigated the use of a very controversial drug that was given to all detainees upon arrival at Guantanamo.

This was a drug called Mefloquine. It was to treat malaria. However, it was a drug that was given in large doses…1250 mg…it was a treatment dose as opposed to a prophylactic dose.

The Department of Defense says that they were very concerned about malaria returning to Afghanistan, but it turns out the way in which they administered this drug…which by the way has been known to cause suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, hallucinations…it’s just a drug that has a dark history in a way.

People have testified to the fact that it is like taking LSD.

That is something that we spent quite a bit of time on.

We actually got the standard operating procedure document showing that this is a drug that was given at unprecedented treatment doses.

But, for the most part, the general public does not realize that, that was something done.

I mean it really does raise questions. And, you know, you talk about Guantanamo. Guantanamo, at one point back in the 90s housed Haitian refugees. The way that we treated Haitian refugees, who were at Guantanamo…I will just use the same example with the drug.

They were brought to Guantanamo. They were not given treatment doses of this controversial drug. It just goes to the point that I am trying to make, which is that we really treated the individuals that were captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere like animals. And, I don't think that the public fully understands or has been able to grasp that.

I thank you so much for your time.

My pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

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