Logbook traces treatment of detainee possibly part of 9/11 plot
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay is drawing fresh criticism following a Time magazine report on a logbook tracing the treatment of a detainee who officials believe was intended to take part in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Time’s report on the treatment received by Mohammed al-Qahtani prompted a quick defense from the Pentagon along with outrage from several members of Congress.
Al-Qahtani was denied entry to the United States by an immigration officer in August 2001 and later captured in Afghanistan and sent to the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The 84-page logbook obtained by Time and authenticated by Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita is the “kind of document that was never meant to leave Gitmo,” a senior Pentagon official told the magazine.
According to the logbook, which covers al-Qahtani’s interrogations from November 2002 to January 2003, the Time article reports that daily interviews began at 4 a.m. and sometimes continued until midnight.
The interrogation techniques included refusing al-Qahtani a bathroom break and forcing him to urinate in his pants.
A Nebraska senator criticized the techniques.
“It’s not appropriate,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, said Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “It’s not at all within the standards of who we are as a civilized people, what our laws are.
“If in fact we are treating prisoners this way, it’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous and very dumb and very shortsighted,” Hagel said.
“This is not how you win the people of the world over to our side, especially the Muslim world.”
During the period covered by the logbook, Time reported, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved 16 additional interrogation techniques for use on certain detainees.
Afterward, interrogators began their sessions with al-Qahtani at midnight and awakened him with dripping water or Christina Aguilera music if he dozed off, the magazine article reported.
The magazine said the techniques approved by Rumsfeld included “standing for prolonged periods, isolation for as long as 30 days, removal of clothing, forced shaving of facial hair” and hanging “pictures of scantily clad women around his neck.”
Hagel said such treatment should offend the sensibilities of “any straight-thinking American, any straight-thinking citizen of the world.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said on the same program that the treatment outlined in the article presents “a kind of ludicrous view of the United States.”
“I don’t know what tree we’re barking up,” she said. “It is a terrible mistake.”
“I don’t know why we didn’t learn from Bagram,” she added, referring to a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I don’t know why we didn’t learn from Abu Ghraib [prison in Iraq], but here we are in Guantanamo with many of the same things surfacing.”
Hagel raised questions about the quality of leadership that would allow such things to happen, drawing a comparison to his own experience fighting in Vietnam.
“We’ve been reassured for the last two years it’s not happening when in fact it is happening,” he said.
“There’s either a culture of leadership or there’s not,” he said. “This kind of stuff will fill the vacuum, and it needs to stop.”
Hagel and Feinstein said they weren’t sure whether the facility should be closed and were looking forward to Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week on whether detainees had adequate legal protection.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also planning hearings later this month.
Others, however, said they did not see the treatment as abuse.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defended the Guantanamo facility and flatly rejected suggestions that prisoners are mistreated.
“I think that’s accepting a falsehood and giving to the American people that somehow we don’t treat prisoners right,” said Hunter, a Republican from California.
Hunter cited a menu of food served to prisoners Sunday — including oven-fried chicken, rice pilaf, fruit and pita bread — as a sign that they are treated well.
“These are the people who tried to kill us,” he said. “It includes the guy — the 20th hijacker, that was Mr. Qahtani who was caught coming in — who didn’t make it to the planes that drove into New York,” Hunter said following an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
Earlier on the program, Hunter said the “legend” of Guantanamo Bay is “different than the fact” and repeatedly cited the menu.
“Here you have a guy who was on his way to kill 5,000 Americans,” he said. “And we have people complaining because he had a dog bark at him in Guantanamo.”
Nineteen hijackers commandeered four commercial airliners on September 11, 2001, piloting two into the World Trade Towers and one into the Pentagon. Another, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in a Pennsylvania field. The death toll from the attacks was just under 3,000.
All the planes were hijacked by five men except Flight 93, which was commandeered by four. Some officials have speculated that al-Qahtani might have been the missing hijacker on Flight 93.
According to the Time article, lead hijacker Mohammed Atta was waiting for al-Qahtani outside the airport in Orlando, Florida, when he was detained by an immigration officer a month before the attacks.
Hunter defended the use of certain techniques as special to al-Qahtani.
“Secretary Rumsfeld for Mr. Qahtani — the hijacker who had important information on us, perhaps who was going to hit us next — approved for about two weeks the so-called new techniques for Mr. Qahtani,” he said.
The new techniques actually were in use from December 2, 2002, to January 15, 2003, when public outcry helped lead Rumsfeld to revoke them.
A senior Pentagon official told Time the Defense Department wasn’t sure how effective such treatment was. At times, the logbook notes that al-Qahtani was more cooperative when interrogators eased up on him, according to the Time report.
Defense touts information gained
The Defense Department issued a news release Sunday touting the information gained from interrogating al-Qahtani.
According to the Pentagon, al-Qahtani told interrogators that he “had been sent to the U.S. by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the lead architect of the 9/11 attack; that he had met Osama bin Laden on several occasions; that he had received terrorist training at two al Qaeda camps; that he had been in contact with many senior al Qaeda leaders.”
Additionally, the department said, al-Qahtani “clarified Jose Padilla’s and Richard Reid’s relationship with al Qaeda and their activities in Afghanistan, provided infiltration routes and methods used by al Qaeda to cross borders undetected, explained how Osama bin Laden evaded capture by U.S. forces, as well as provided important information on his health, [and] provided detailed information about 30 of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that none of the detainees at Guantanamo are entitled to treatment under the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of prisoners of war, because these detainees did not follow rules of war.
Closing the facility — as suggested by Democrats including Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont — “would be an overreaction,” he said.
“We need a place like Guantanamo Bay to house people we take off the battlefield in the war on terror,” said Graham, who serves on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee. “We’ve had problems at Guantanamo Bay, but I don’t think we need to close it.”
Leahy said on the CBS program the United States has “created a legal black hole there.”
“Right now they have no particular legal framework with it,” he said. “We want other countries to adhere to the rule of law, and at Guantanamo, we are not.”
President Bush last week refused to rule out closing the prison, but Rumsfeld said there was no consideration of shutting it down.
The United States says detainees receive protections “consistent” with the Geneva Conventions, and the Red Cross visits regularly.
News reports have said the Red Cross told the United States in a 2004 report that some of its handling of detainees is “tantamount to torture,” but the organization does not publicly confirm or deny such information.
Last month, Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the gulag of our time,” sparking a storm of protests from administration supporters. (Full story)
This week, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch agreed with Leahy that “Guantanamo is a legal black hole,” but said it wasn’t necessary to shut it down.
“You can fix that problem by applying the Geneva Conventions, and the humane rules of interrogation there,” said Tim Malinowski. “But if you don’t mend it, people are going to increase their calls to end it.”
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