How Guantanamo's prisoners were sold

The president of Pakistan's attempts to publicise his memoirs throw light on the flawed and dishones

World leaders should take their cue from Pakistan's self-appointed president, General Pervez Musharraf, and publish memoirs while still in office. It is good to know what is really going on. Last month he went to America, partly to meet with President Bush, and partly to hawk his book, In the Line of Fire, on TV talk shows.

The published extracts show that Musharraf has done some kissing and telling. He describes how the US threatened to bomb Pakistan immediately after the 11 September 2001 attacks if his government did not co-operate in the war on terror ("Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age!" exclaimed the then US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage). He also spills the beans about shipping centrifuges to North Korea, and how his country's nuclear deterrent was not even operational when Pakistan threatened India in 1999.

One interesting nugget involves Pakistan's sale of hundreds of stray Arabs to the Americans, for shipment to Bagram air force base and on to Guantanamo Bay. Many of my clients in Cuba insist that, far from being captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, they were grabbed in Pakistan and flogged to the Americans, like slaves at auction. Predictably enough, for five years the Bush administration has remained very quiet on this issue, but Musharraf's book sheds new light.

"Many members of al-Qaeda fled Afghanistan and crossed the border into Pakistan," he writes. "We have played cat and mouse with them . . . We have captured 689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse us of 'not doing enough' in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the government of Pakistan."

As his revelations set people arguing, so more truths came out. Rather than condemning or denying the bounty programme, the US department of justice complained about who had received the loot. "We didn't know about this," said a justice official. "It should not happen. These bounty payments are for private individuals who help to trace terrorists on the FBI's most wanted list, not foreign governments."

Musharraf backed down, agreeing that the money be given to individuals rather than the government. So, that makes it OK?

The payments help us see why so many innocent prisoners ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Musharraf writes that "millions" were paid for 369 prisoners - the minimum rate was apparently $5,00 0, enough to tempt a poor Pakistani to shop an unwanted Arab to the Americans, gift-wrapped with a story that he was up to no good in Afghanistan.

Value for money

At the start of his interrogation, the prisoner would deny that he had anything to do with the fighting, but, in pursuit of value for money spent, the American authorities would then get to work. Donald Rumsfeld had authorised use of his "enhanced interrogation techniques", and after a few days of "mild non-injurious physical contact" and "exploiting individual phobias" (such as setting on of dogs), the prisoner would inevitably confess to whatever was asked of him - generally, to confirm the story fabricated by the Pakistani bounty hunter. The US agents felt they were extracting only the truth, and this "truth" was worth a ticket to Cuba, where each man's coerced confession would also earn him the label "enemy combatant" at a military tribunal.

Now he cannot even challenge his status in court because the Bush administration has just rushed a law through Congress eviscerating habeas corpus.

Musharraf admits to detaining more than 600 suspects; US sources suggest the true figure may be twice as high. Recent official data shows that only 5 per cent of prisoners at Guantanamo were captured by US forces. The rest were sold by Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, in all likelihood, the president is none too concerned where the bounty dollars will go, as he has reportedly been paid an advance of more than $1m by his publishers, Simon & Schuster.

One lesson of Musharraf's book is that the disastrous US bounty programme itself should come "in the line of fire". If you go to the market place and buy everything that glitters, you will end up with very little gold, but a whole heap of worthless iron pyrites.

Clive Stafford Smith is the legal director of Reprieve, a UK charity fighting for the lives of people facing the death penalty and other human-rights abuses. He represents 36 prisoners in Guantanamo. He will be writing this column monthly. or contact Reprieve PO Box 52742, London EC4P 4WS. Tel: 020 7353 4640

Clive Stafford Smith is legal director of the charity Reprieve and has spent more than 20 years representing prisoners on Death Row in the United States. More recently he has represented many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.