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Many at Gitmo innocent, says former Bush official

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Many detainees locked up at Guantanamo were innocent men swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants, a former Bush administration official said Thursday.

“There are still innocent people there,” Lawrence B. Wilkerson, a Republican who was chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, told The Associated Press. “Some have been there six or seven years.”

Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting on Tuesday, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a “mosaic” of intelligence.

“It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance,” Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather “sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.”

Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, said vetting on the battlefield during the early stages of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was incompetent with no meaningful attempt to determine “who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on Wilkerson's specific allegations but noted that the military has consistently said that dealing with foreign fighters from a wide variety of countries in a wartime setting was a complex process. The military has insisted that those held at Guantanamo were enemy combatants and posed a threat to the United States.

In his posting for The Washington Note blog, Wilkerson wrote that “U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.”

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 Many at Gitmo innocent, says former Bush official 
In this image reviewed by the U.S. Military, a Guantanamo detainee, seen through a glass window, sleeps on a mattress on the floor of his cell at Camp 5 detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nov. 19, 2008. (AP)

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