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Powell Withholds Comment on Report That Innocent Men Were Kept at Gitmo

Colin Powell declined to comment on an article published in the Times of London Friday that reported innocent men were kept at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp because the Bush administration feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader war on terror.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Powell, the former secretary of state, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantanamo detainee.

Peggy Cifrino, principal assistant to Powell, said in a written statement to Fox News, "General Powell has not seen Colonel Wilkerson's declaration and, therefore, cannot provide a comment. Nor, obviously, can 'it be understood that he backed' the declaration as reported by Tim Reid of The Times."

The Times of London reported that George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew in 2002 that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo were innocent, but the administration believed that it was "politically impossible to release them".

Colonel Wilkerson, who was Powell's chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was a long-time critic of the Bush administration's approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq. According to the Times of London, Wilkerson claimed that one reason Cheney and Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because "the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were."

Cifrino added that Powell "does not know the basis upon which Colonel Wilkerson claims to know the views and intentions of the senior officials cited in the story."

A spokesman for Bush had no comment on Wilkerson's allegations. A former associate to Rumsfeld said that Wilkerson's assertions were completely untrue.

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