Also posted at my new investigative news magazine, The Public Record.
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 al-Qahtani.
“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, in an interview with The Public Record.
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 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 ambulance.”
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 9/11 hijackers to proceed with only 19 participants.