Serious Questions About Wikileaks’ Release of Purported Guantanamo SOP
On October 25, 2012, Wikileaks began to release what they indicated would be “more than 100 classified or otherwise restricted files from the United States Department of Defense covering the rules and procedures for detainees in U.S. military custody.” They labeled the release “The Detainee Policies.”
One of the first documents released was of the purported 2002 Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). According to the accompanying press release, this was “the foundation document for Guantanamo Bay (‘Camp Delta’).” Julian Assange is quoted in the press release as saying, “This document is of significant historical importance…. how is it that WikiLeaks has now published three years of Guantanamo Bay operating procedures, but the rest of the world’s press combined has published none?”
Assange, who has been fighting extradition to Sweden, and currently resides under asylum protection at the Ecuadoran embassy in London, also challenged the press and the public to read and analyze the documents. “Publicize your findings,” he asked.
But over three months later, there has been essentially zero analysis. Even though the Wikileaks “Detainee Policies” release had extensive world-wide coverage in the press and blogosphere, outside of a few tweets, there’s been practically no follow-up investigation of these documents.
The non-coverage after the initial release is in itself astounding, but even more surprising is the fact that when examined some of the documents appear to be problematic and of doubtful provenance. (In addition, strangely, the documents do not allow cut and paste commands to accurately reproduce text, which is not typical of Wikileaks documents.)
Sadly – since a good deal of reporters, myself included, have come to rely on the accuracy of what Wikileaks has posted over the years – an examination of the Camp Delta 2002 SOP raises serious reasons as to whether it is a reliable document. At best it is a very corrupted draft of an authentic document. At worst, it is a sloppy forgery.
In addition, there are further questions about other documents released as part of “The Detainee Policies,” as well questions as to whether Wikileaks personnel understood the material they were releasing. In the past, Wikileaks has used the resources of major media like the New York Times, the UK Guardian, El Pais, etc., and independent authoritative analysts, like Andy Worthington, for outside analytic assistance.
Wikileaks has been under significant economic and legal pressure from the US government and its corporate and other governmental allies, and it is no secret that the organization operates under serious constraints as a result. According to the organization, “An extrajudicial blockade imposed by VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, and Western Union that is designed to destroy WikiLeaks has been in place since December 2010.”
Whatever Wikileaks has accomplished in other document releases and analysis, the failure to accurately report or vet the “Detainee Policies” documents, by either Wikileaks or the world press and blogging community, calls into dire question the accuracy of a good deal of what passes for reporting by media outlets and commentators.
The only expert I could find who had anything to say about the Camp Delta SOP document was Almerindo Ojeda, who posted a link to the purported “Standing [sic] Operating Procedures” at the website for the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA), along with his caveats on the document. Ojeda’s own independent analysis largely concurred with my own.
What Did Wikileaks Release?
We cannot know the source of the documents Wikileaks released. So any analysis of the documents must rely on a close textual perusal of the documents themselves. And thanks to Wikileaks, who released the 2003 and 2004 Camp Delta SOPs a few years ago, we can contrast and compare very similar documents.
The “2002” Camp Delta SOP does not look like other DoD documents of this type. It has no markings regarding its classification status, for instance. The formatting is often erratic, with whole paragraphs published with centered rather than justified or left aligned text. There is a good deal of missing, mispaginated, and misordered text. A number of pages begin with text that does not follow logically from the preceding page.
There’s no doubt we are not looking at the SOP itself, even if we were to grant it was a genuine document. The Wikileaks document is not presented in the discrete pages of an actual document, but as a long running text document, as if from a word processor, with headings within the text indicating what page number out of 48 supposed pages a given block of text represents.
In addition, the page headers do not appear at the top or bottom of actual pages, but are interspersed within the text. The text itself does not go beyond “Page 47 of 48”. The Wikileaks description of the document itself at the home page for the “Detention Poliicies” states that the document has 33 pages.
What Wikileaks calls the “Main  SOP for Camp Delta, Guantanamo” states on its first page that it is a revision dated November 11, 2002. The subsequent SOP for Camp Delta is dated March 23, 2003, approximately five and one-half months later. That SOP, according to its text, was “reorganized” from the previous SOP, so it could consolidate “all aspects of detention and security operations” so the SOP could be “more efficient for its intended users.”
Indeed, the new Wikileaks release of the purported 2002 Camp Delta SOP refers to separate SOPs for relating to detainee matters in relation to the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as one for the “Use of IRF”. IRF refers to “Internal Reaction Force,” which according to this latest Wikileaks release is a 24 hour force available for “possible emergency response situations.” Over the years, the IRF teams have been implicated in brutal beatings of prisoners and violent cell extractions.
The Wikileaks press release for the Detention Policies states, “The ’Detainee Policies’ provide a more complete understanding of the instructions given to captors as well as the ’rights’ afforded to detainees.” It also asks “lawyers, NGOs, human rights activists and the public to mine the ’Detainee Policies’” and “to research and compare the different generations of SOPs and FRAGOs to help us better understand the evolution in these policies and why they have occurred.”
Unfortunately, at least in the case of the purported 2002 Camp Delta SOP, it is unclear just what this document represents. Was it a faulty reconstruction of the original document, a draft of the SOP, a forgery based on some knowledge of the material? We can’t know.
Another problem with the initial analysis by Wikileaks concerns unfamiliarity with the larger world of relevant documents on interrogation. For instance, in their press release, Wikileaks touts one document as revealing “a formal policy of terrorising detainees during interrogations.” This 13-page interrogation policy document from 2005 describes interrogation policies “that apply to… all personnel in the Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF–I). Wikileaks points out as examples of “exploitative techniques” the use of “‘approved’ ‘interrogation approaches'” such as “Emotional Love Approach” and “Fear Up (Harsh).”
While it is interesting to see that these interrogation techniques were applicable to the MNF-I, they are not, as the press release implies, new or unique “interrogation approaches,” but are drawn from the Army Field Manual (AFM) for Intelligence Interrogation in use at that time. That particular version of the AFM came out in 1992. The two “approaches” remain in the current AMF as well, which was significantly updated in September 2006.
While Wikileaks may be wrong about the significance of discovering the use of Fear Up and other problematic techniques, the organization is correct that these are abusive techniques. In fact, such techniques in use by the Department of Defense’s interrogation manual only got worse after it was updated, with the addition of techniques of sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation that were not allowed in the earlier AFM, nor indeed, in the MNF-I document Wikileaks released. They are, however, allowed by the current Obama administration.
Only days after making the analysis above, I wrote to Wikileaks spokesman, Kristinn Hrafnsson.
I told Hrafnsson the 2002 Camp Delta SOP was “a mish-mash, a cut-and-paste nightmare that makes little sense. It cannot be, in this form, the SOP Wikileaks claims it to be. Perhaps it was a part of a former draft, but it is so mixed up, I wonder about even that. Much of the document, perhaps as much as half, consists of out of order sequences of text, in addition to numerous instances of missing text. I have wondered whether someone saw the original SOP and tried, miserably, to reconstruct it. I’ve even wondered if it is a forgery. For instance, it has a section on “Familiarization” that has no parallel in any other US DoD SOP that I can find. DoD just does not speak of the matters in that section in that way. In addition, I note that this 2002 purported Camp Delta SOP document is the draft that apparently was used for the supposed [Iraq-based] Camp Bucca draft SOP in 2004.”
The draft Camp Bucca document is another hodge-podge with all the same typographical and text problems as the 2002 Camp Delta SOP, except possibly worse, as the document confuses the two very different detention environments. For instance, on page 13, under “Detainee Tracking,” which begins its item list with number four (where are 1-3?), the document advises that “an overnight stay at GTMO… must be updated in the Camp Bucca Detainee Database…”
Three pages later, the Camp Bucca SOP advises that in case the Camp Command Center is moved due to an emergency, the “JDOG Commander and JTF-GTMO Commander will be notified….”
I asked Hrafnsson if “ Wikileaks vetted the 2002 SOP in any way, and whether it stands by the characterization of it in the press release as ‘the foundation document for Guantanamo Bay’ and as the actual 2002 Camp Delta SOP.”
I also noted that in the press release Wikileaks represented the documents as “classified or otherwise restricted”, but told Hrafnsson that DODD 2310.1 on Enemy Prisoners of War has been available online for years, including in the format (but oddly, not the font) Wikileaks presented it. “So this one document, at least, is not classified or restricted,” I wrote to the Wikileaks spokesperson, “and I wonder if you can comment on that.”
Hrafnsson’s reply on October 28 was quite brief, only two sentences.
“The doc is marked ‘rev’ – under revision. We are certain this is an authentic document from the US Military,” the Wikileaks spokesman wrote.
Interestingly, the document’s date of “revision,” November 11, 2002, is the same date given for the first known release of the Standard Operating Procedures for Guantanamo’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT). Important on its own account, it is worth comparing the 2002 Camp Delta SOP with how a vetted, actual DOD SOP looks, an SOP released on the same day. (Note, the BSCT SOP uses the phrase “Standard Operating Procedures,” while the 2002 Camp Delta SOP uses “Standing Operating Procedure.” The swap of the word “Standard” for the very rarely used “Standing” is itself indicative of something strange going on, and the later previously published Camp Delta SOPs all use the term “Standard Operating Procedure.”)
On Monday, February 21, after about two weeks of waiting, Jose Ruiz, a spokesperson for US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Guantanamo’s parent military command, answered my query for DoD feedback regarding the authenticity of the Wikileaks 2002 Camp Delta document.
“We do not comment on documents published by Wikileaks,” Ruiz wrote in an email.
“In addressing your request, we attempted to verify whether or not a 2002 Camp Delta SOPs ever existed, and if so, whether portions of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were releasable.
“We can confirm that SOPs existed for every facility utilized by JTF-GTMO to house detainees. All such prior and present SOPs were developed and implemented to ensure task force detention operations are conducted in a safe, humane, legal and transparent manner. For security reasons, we do not discuss specific details related to detention operation procedures or release documents containing specific details related to those procedures.”
I take this to mean there was an SOP earlier than the 2003 SOP currently in the public domain, but due to DoD’s vagueness, that’s still only an educated guess.
SOUTHCOM may not comment on Wikileaks documents now, but that wasn’t always the case. It is instructive to compare Ruiz’s comments to what was said about earlier Wikileaks releases.
Back in November 2007, Wikileaks had posted the 2003 Camp Delta SOP, the first of their Guantanamo SOP releases. At that time, according to an article in the Miami Herald, “military spokesmen… confirmed the March 2003 policy manual was authentic, [but] they cited security needs at the remote Navy base in Cuba in declining to confirm specifics.”
The website for The Guantánamo Testimonials Project at the Center for the Study of Human Rights in America at UC Davis, which has published numerous documents and testimonies involved in the Guantanamo torture scandal, indicated that as a result of the irregularities in the 2002 SOP, it would “suspend judgement as to the reliability of this document as a source of testimony.”
The website states:
On October 25, 2012, Wikileaks released a Camp Delta Standing [sic] Operating Procedures for 2002 (click here). The document released differed sharply, however, from the earlier standard operating procedures it released. Both in form and in content. First, the released document has egregious spelling, grammar, and formatting errors. The former can be found even in titles (cf. “Famaliarazation” instead of “Familiarization”). Second, the document seems to have material simply deleted (as opposed to redacted) from it. To give an example, Page 13 of 48 introduced a section “b” for which no section “a” was previously introduced. Mentioned in this section “b” are a number of steps which start at “4” and go through “9”. But no mention can be found of any prior steps 1, 2, 3. Along the same lines, page 13 of 48 concludes with a “Section 18. MILITARY POLICE BLOTTER”. But no section prior to 18 can be found in the document— let alone seventeen such sections. Page 14 of 18 then continues with step 10 as if the aforementioned Section 18 was never mentioned.
As to content, the document has only 33 pages—which is an order of magnitude smaller than the previously released standard operating procedures for Camp Delta. And the omissions from the document are puzzling. There is almost no mention, for example, of forced cell extractions and how to carry them out (as we find in other SOPs). There are passing references to IRFs (§3009) and how to shackle prisoners in them (§4005.6.c), but nothing about how to approach the cells. Or why. Interestingly, it mentions at §3009 the existence of an IRF-specific SOP. Along similar lines, there is no mention of the initial period of solitary confinement “to prolong the stress of capture” (as we find in other SOPs). Or of the linguistic policies that other SOPs lay down carefully (the use of “self harm gesture” instead of “suicide”, for example. Or of “voluntary total fasting” instead of “hunger strike”). There is also no mention of terrorism or the war on terror as a justification for the base.
In the Wikileaks press release accompanying the Detainee Policies documents, Assange wrote, “Guantanamo Bay has become the symbol for systematised human rights abuse in the West with good reason.” And indeed it has.
I cannot fault the intentions behind the motivations of Assange and his co-thinkers to expose the massive human rights and civil liberties abuses of the United States government. This article is not meant as a critique of Wikileaks in general, or of other releases put out by that organization, or even of the Detainee Policies release as a whole, which I have not analyzed fully in depth. It may be that there are other significant problems, or even useful findings in these documents that have not been discovered yet.
Every organization makes errors from time to time, and media organizations routinely have to issue corrections for such errors. At times, such errors have been colossal, or misinformation in mainstream media publications has testified to a close relationship with the government itself.
Something strange happened with the release of the Detainee Policies. The purported 2002 Camp Delta SOP is only the most egregious example. The strangeness is not only with Wikileaks, but even more with a press and blogging world that is too often incurious, aloof, willing to believe what is written down and unwilling to dig hard to find out what is really going on.