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Penny Lane: The CIA's Double Agent Recruiting Station at Gitmo

Though US government relentlessly fear-mongered the idea that detainees would "return to the battlefield," CIA program made sure of it

- Jon Queally, staff writer

This satellite image provided by TerraServer.com and DigitalGlobe shows an image captured on Sept. 2, 2010, shows a portion of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including the secret facility known as Penny Lane, upper middle in white. In the early years after 9/11, the CIA turned a handful of prisoners at the secret facility into double agents and released them. Current and former U.S. officials tell The Associated Press that the program helped kill terrorists. The program was carried out in the secret facility, built a few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the prison in Guantanamo Bay, bottom of image. The eight small cottages were hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus. (AP Photo/TerraServer.com and DigitalGlobe)One of the most repeated justifications for keeping Guantanamo Bay detainees locked up indefinitely at the U.S. government's offshore prison was to prevent the possibility of accused former al-Qaida operatives from "returning to the battlefield."

Now, new revelations by the Associated Press show that at least one program run by the CIA was not only using the prospect of endlesss detention as leverage against individuals who were never charged with a crime, it was actively recruiting prisoners to become double agents so it could, that's right, "return them to the battlefield."

And what's most striking, according to some, is that as the most clearly innocent prisoners languished (as many still do) in a Kafkaesque landscape of indefinite detention without trial, those determined to have some of the most clear ties to al-Qaida were the one's hand-selected for possible release.

According to AP:

The CIA promised the prisoners freedom, safety for their families and millions of dollars from the agency's secret accounts.

It was a risky gamble. Officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.

For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, the program was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the risk of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.

The program was carried out in a secret facility built a few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The eight small cottages were hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus.

The program and the handful of men who passed through these cottages had various official CIA code names.

But those who were aware of the cluster of cottages knew it best by its sobriquet: Penny Lane.

The story was written with input from "nearly a dozen current and former U.S officials" familiar with the program, though all of them spoke under the protection of anonymity.

Though the program is reported to have only generated a "small" numer of active double agents, part of the irony is that those detainees most likely innocent of affiliation with al-Qaida, those held on the flimsiest of evidence, were reportedly the ones of least interest to the CIA and while they remained in legal pergatory—untried but refused released—it was the "more dangerous" detainees, those with established ties to militant terrorism, that were slated for the program and given the prospect of returning to the free world.

While the agency looked for viable candidates, those with no terrorism ties sat in limbo. It would take years before the majority of detainees were set free, having never been charged. Of the 779 people who were taken to Guantanamo Bay, more than three-fourths have been released, mostly during the Bush administration.

Many others remain at Guantanamo Bay, having been cleared for release by the military but with no hope for freedom in sight.

"I do see the irony on the surface of letting some really very bad guys go," said David Remes, an American lawyer who has represented about a dozen Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo.

As Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, tweeted in response to the AP story:

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