Leading article: A victory for press freedom over Pentagon secrecy


Brick by brick, the wall of secrecy surrounding Guantanamo Bay is being dismantled. Last week, a BBC interview with a detainee conducted through a lawyer broke one taboo. Now, the Pentagon's release of 6,000 pages of transcripts is a much more significant development.

Leafing through this material on the Pentagon website will cast some readers into the milieu portrayed in the recent bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul, for this is a world of travellers, newly liberated by the forces of globalisation from the provincialism of their ancestors. As cooks, cleaners, drivers, salesmen and merchants, they criss-cross the Muslim world from Afghanistan to Saudia Arabia, working, studying, going on pilgrimage and yes, in some instances, looking for a fight with US forces.

George Bush's administration did not want anyone to peek behind this veil. Still insisting that America's state of war with al-Qa'ida renders the processes of trial by jury redundant, as these are "enemy combatants", it has only turned over this information under the pressure of a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

Still, they have turned it over, for which we can be grateful. We should especially applaud the federal judge who rejected the Administration's cynical argument that release of the detainees' names would violate their privacy and endanger their security. It's hard to imagine how much more Kafkaesque can one get. As if most of the detainees would not be desperate to have the facts of their four-year confinement known to the world. So, good for Judge Jed Rakoff of New York, for reminding America's shriller critics that the US justice system is alive and well and has not been intimidated into self-censorship by the needs of the "war on terrorism".

The other beneficiaries of this lawsuit are the detainees themselves. For the first time, an abstract statistic takes flesh. It is as if their faces have suddenly appeared at a window, blurred but visible for all that. Take Mohammed Gul, Afghan farmer and part-time petrol pump attendant. In the transcript, he says he was arrested as a Taliban fighter after being found with a rifle on his return from Saudi Arabia, where he was working as driver, to care for his sick wife. Or, take Sardar Khan, who, as far as one can tell from the transcript, was a cook for an alleged al-Qa'ida cell. Such are the men who allegedly pose so great a danger to our democracy that they need to be kept under lock and key for years without trial or immediate hope of release.

Or, have some of them been released already? We do not know, for Judge Rakoff's ruling is not the total victory over the Towers of Silence for which one might have hoped. Ideally, we would have a complete list of all those in detained at Guantanamo Bay, today and in the past. But we have access only to the transcripts of Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Only those men who have come before the tribunals have appeared in print, and only some are named. Nevertheless, some information is better than none, and what can be gleaned from the transcripts confirms what many of us have suspected, which is that the US dragnet in Afghanistan caught many a migrating eel or drifting starfish alongside the more purposeful sharp-teethed fish.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury put it, this is "an extraordinary anomaly". But with the release of the transcripts, daylight is starting to penetrate this enigmatic set-up and drag it out from the shadows. With any luck, that will bring home to even the most patriotic and trusting members of the American public how absurd and damaging to us all the continued imprisonment without trial of the Guantanamo Bay detainees really is.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: the endless and beginningless election campaign goes up and down

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

Danny Rogers
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor