…were never at Guantanamo Bay. They were in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in the White House:
Recent interviews with troops from the early days at Guantanamo confirm that the “worst of the worst” charge was suspect from the very first encounters with the detainees. There wasn’t any reliable vetting. Although the first troops on the ground at Guantanamo were led to believe that they would be receiving the “worst of the worst,” the detainees themselves seemed from the start to be far from the dangerous men they had expected — symbolically, individuals who, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, were capable of chewing through hydraulic cables on board the transport planes but who it turned out arrived with rotting teeth and weakened physiques.
Overall, the U.S. military was blindsided by who they received at Gitmo and by the condition in which the detainees arrived. Arriving dehydrated, and startlingly thin, the detainees were mostly not only small and weak, but did not even speak the languages which the troops on the ground had been told to expect. Many came from countries outside of the Afghanistan/Pakistan area. Some did not even seem capable of any dire acts.
Among the earliest arrivals, one was apparently an octogenarian; another was over ninety. One was a diagnosed schizophrenic. However possible the danger quotient of these first arrivals, the inclusion of these cases made the team at Gitmo suspect that the vetting process had been haphazard at best.
Later investigations have shown that most of the detainees were not captured directly by U.S. troops. Instead, the U.S. paid bounties to, or otherwise received the prisoners from, Pakistani boarder guards and Northern Alliance troops. There was no single profile for the detainees; instead they seemed like a ragtag and miscellaneous group. Nor did they arrive with information.
The pocket litter that detainees were carrying when captured – materials that trained police would have carefully preserved and labeled for use during interrogation – came stuffed randomly into bags but was often not separated per individual. Doubts about the identities of the detainees were registered by visiting Congresspersons and by members of the Bush Administration, but these doubts never seemed to go anywhere.
Thus began the story of defending a mission that seemed in part fraudulent from the start. As the general in charge has noted in retrospect, it took a petty officer to put a detainee on the plane to Guantanamo and an order signed by the President of the United States to get him out.