Thursday, April 28, 2011

These Guantánamo files undo the al-Qaida myth machine

Hidden deep in the leaked Guantánamo files is a small but important trove of information, too historical and too technical to have commanded much space in newspapers keener on hyperventilating about "nuclear al-Qaida hellstorms" this week. Each of the 700-plus files includes a short biography of its subject.

Many myths were deliberately generated by governments. In 2002 and 2003, repressive and dictatorial regimes around the world scrabbled to uncover or rebrand local militant movements with long histories as al-Qaida offshoots. New Delhi claimed that Bin Laden, a 6ft 4in Arab and one of the most recognisable fugitives for centuries, had hidden in Kashmir, a smallish part of India crawling with 500,000 soldiers and police.

Finally, there were the most egregious examples of mythmaking: the spurious connection of al-Qaida to Saddam Hussein and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction.