Torture policies undermine 9/11 case
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer
May 20, 2008, 00:16
The Pentagon�s decision to drop war-crimes charges against
Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged �20th hijacker� in the 9/11 attacks, again
underscores the consequences of the Bush administration�s descent into torture
and other abusive treatment of �war on terror� detainees.
If al-Qahtani�s case had gone forward, the U.S. government
would have been forced to reveal its own violations of the Geneva Convention,
anti-torture statutes and the laws of war, according to lawyers representing
�All of the [incriminating] statements Mohammad al-Qahtani
made or is alleged to have made were the result of torture or made under the
threat of torture and that is in my view why the government decided to dismiss
his case at this point,� said Vince Warren, executive director of the Center
for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York.
CCR has been representing Mohammed al-Qahtani since 2005 and
has led the legal battle for the human rights of detainees incarcerated at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the last six years.
The harsh treatment of al-Qahtani was catalogued in an
84-page log of his interrogation that was leaked in 2006. The so-called
�torture log� shows that beginning in November 2002 and continuing well into
January 2003, al-Qahtani was subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogated in
20-hour stretches, poked with IV�s, and left to urinate on himself.
On Dec. 11, 2002, interrogators began to apply what they called
the �pride and ego down approach,� subjecting him to religious and sexual
humiliation, making him bark like a dog, and calling him �a pig� as he was made
to pick up piles of trash with his hands cuffed.
According to one entry for Dec. 13, 2002, the interrogators
sought to �escalate the detainee�s emotions.�
�A mask was made from an MRE [meals ready to eat] box with a
smiley face on it and placed on the detainee�s head for a few moments. A latex
glove was inflated and labeled the �sissy slap� glove. This glove was touched
to the detainee�s face periodically after explaining the terminology to him.
�The mask was placed back on the detainee�s head. While
wearing the mask, the team began dance instruction with the detainee. The
detainee became agitated and began shouting. The mask was removed and detainee
was allowed to sit. Detainee shouted and addressed lead [interrogator] as �the
oldest Christian here� and wanted to know why lead [interrogator] allowed the
detainee to be treated this way.�
The log contains numerous entries describing al-Qahtani�s
reaction to the interrogations, as he cried, shook, moaned, yelled, prayed,
cried out for Allah, trembled uncontrollably and asserted his innocence.
According to a report by CCR attorneys, �On one occasion
described in the interrogation log, Mr. al-Qahtani was rushed to a military
base hospital when his heart rate fell dangerously low during a period of
extreme sleep deprivation, physical stress and psychological trauma.
�The military flew in a radiologist from the U.S. Naval
Station in Puerto Rico to evaluate the computed tomography (�CT� or �CAT�)
scan. After being permitted to sleep a full night, medical personnel cleared
Mr. al-Qahtani for further interrogation the next day. During his
transportation from the hospital, Mr. al-Qahtani was interrogated in the
Legal experts, who have followed the al-Qahtani case since
his capture in December 2001, say a core problem for the Pentagon was that the
evidence against al-Qahtani was derived substantially from admissions that he
made while under harsh interrogation.
There was also circumstantial evidence related to
al-Qahtani�s attempt to enter the United States before the 9/11 attacks. An
immigration official turned him back and U.S. government officials claim that
action forced the alleged 9/11 hijackers to proceed with only 19 participants.
Last February, the Pentagon announced its intention to
pursue the death penalty against al-Qahtani and five other men for their
alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
But on May 9, the Pentagon dismissed the case against
al-Qahtani without explanation � and without prejudice, meaning that the
charges could be reinstated at a later date. Though the charges were dropped,
he will remain detained indefinitely at Guantanamo.
Al-Qahtani is believed to be one of the first detainees
subjected to harsh questioning after the Justice Department issued a legal
opinion in August 2002 permitting U.S. government interrogators to sidestep the
Geneva Convention and use cruel and humiliating techniques, from forced nudity
to stress positions to waterboarding, to extract information.
The Geneva Convention bars abusive or demeaning treatment of
captives. However, John Yoo, then a senior lawyer in the Justice Department�s
Office of Legal Counsel, concluded that the Geneva Convention did not apply to
alleged members of al-Qaeda.
As reported previously, specific interrogation methods used
against al-Qahtani were approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
in a December 2002 action memorandum.
Months of torture
Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, an attorney with CCR and the lead
attorney defending al-Qahtani, said in a sworn declaration that his client,
imprisoned at Guantanamo, was subjected to months of torture based on verbal
and written authorizations from Rumsfeld.
�Mr. al-Qahtani was subjected to a regime of aggressive
interrogation techniques, known as the �First Special Interrogation
Plan,�" Gutierrez said. �Those techniques were implemented under the supervision
and guidance of Secretary Rumsfeld and the commander of Guant�namo, Major
General Geoffrey Miller.
"These methods included, but were not limited to, 48
days of severe sleep deprivation and 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity,
sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress
positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military
Gutierrez�s claims about the type of interrogation
al-Qahtani endured have since been borne out by the release of hundreds of
pages of internal Pentagon documents, which described interrogation methods at
Guantanamo, as well as by the findings of two independent reports on prisoner
Rumsfeld�s action memo was criticized by Alberto Mora, the
former general counsel of the Navy.
�The interrogation techniques approved by the Secretary [of
Defense] should not have been authorized because some (but not all) of them,
whether applied singly or in combination, could produce effects reaching the
level of torture, a degree of mistreatment not otherwise proscribed by the memo
because it did not articulate any bright-line standard for prohibited detainee
treatment, a necessary element in any such document,� Mora wrote in a 14-page
letter to the Navy�s inspector general.
Additionally, a Dec. 20, 2005, Army Inspector General Report
relating to the capture and interrogation of al-Qahtani included a sworn
statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, who said Secretary Rumsfeld was
�personally involved� in the interrogation of al-Qahtani and spoke �weekly�
with Maj. Gen. Miller about the status of the interrogations between late 2002
and early 2003.
Last February, the Justice Department's Office of
Professional Responsibility (OPR) confirmed that it had launched a formal
investigation to determine, among other issues, whether department attorneys
provided the White House with poor legal advice when it said interrogators
could use harsh interrogation methods against detainees.
CCR�s Warren said a trial of al-Qahtani would have forced
the government to disclose how it obtained information from the defendant about
alleged terrorist plans and the inner workings of al-Qaeda.
�We were pursuing the case that the government got evidence
through torture,� Warren said. �The government would have to talk about how the
information was obtained. That would never be able to survive in court because
the torture log is clear that Mr. al-Qahtani provided information because he
was being tortured.�
Warren said he wants the Pentagon to release al-Qahtani and
have him sent to Saudi Arabia �where they have a system in place to maintain
custody of any former Guantanamo detainee who presents a danger, as well as a
strong rehabilitation program supervising those that are released.�
�It�s unlikely he would face torture or abuse on the
magnitude Mr. al-Qahtani faced at Gitmo,� Warren said.
Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit
www.newsjunkiebook.com for a
new website is The Public Record.
Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor