Reprinted from Truthout
A federal court judge on Monday revealed that the brutal interrogation of an alleged "war on terror" detainee imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than seven years was videotaped and she ordered the government to turn over the materials to the prisoner's lawyers.
Mohammed al-Qahtani was someone Bush administration officials had referred to as the "20th hijacker" of the 9/11 attacks. The government claimed the Saudi man intended to take part in 9/11, but he was denied entry into the United States by an immigration official a month before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
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.
The treatment of al-Qahtani was cataloged in an 84-page "torture log" that was leaked in 2006. The "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 IVs and left to urinate on himself.
In an interview with The Washington Post last January, Susan Crawford, the retired judge who heads military commissions at Guantanamo, became the highest ranking US official who said the interrogation of al-Qahtani met the legal definition of torture and, as a result, she would not allow a war crimes tribunal against him to proceed because the evidence against him was tainted.
"We tortured [al] Qahtani," Crawford told veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Though the war crimes charges were dropped, al-Qahtani remains detained indefinitely at Guantanamo, where he has been imprisoned since February 2002.
Al-Qahtani filed a habeas corpus petition in October 2006 challenging his imprisonment, and his attorneys argued that any admissions he made about his alleged involvement in terrorist activities were extracted through torture and threats of torture, assertions that Bush administration officials had vehemently denied.
The human rights group, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has represented al-Qahtani since 2005, disclosed the court documents containing details of the existence of video and audiotapes of al-Qahtani's interrogations. The group filed court papers in March seeking any video tapes of al-Qahtani's interrogation and other records.
"After the intense scrutiny of the government's torture and interrogation of Mr. al Qahtani, it is shocking that the government has hidden the existence of these tapes from the public for so many years," said CCR attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez. "The government's interrogation of him has been the topic of multiple military, Justice Department and congressional investigations. These tapes should have been acknowledged long ago."
In a six-page order, US District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer wrote: "in order to clear these tapes for release, multiple agencies including the Department of Defense ('DOD'), the FBI, and the Central Intelligence Agency would have to review the tapes frame-by frame" and that would be "excessively burdensome."
"However, the tapes created at the end of the period from August 13, 2002 to November 22, 2003 likely have some value to [the defense]," Collyer added. "To justify [al-Qahtani's] detention, the Government relies on [his] statements made from April 2003 through March 2004. [Al-Qahtani] challenges the veracity and reliability of the statements.
"He contends that his statements were so tainted by the cumulative effects of abusive treatment that took place previously that the statements cannot be credited or relied upon ... To provide relevant information to [al-Qahtani] and yet to ease the burden on the Government, the Court will order the Government to produce only those audio/video recordings of Petitioner created between November 15, 2002 and November 22, 2002."
On November 23, 2002, Rumsfeld verbally authorized interrogators to use harsh methods during the interrogation of al-Qahtani, according to previous investigations into the Bush administration's torture program.
According to an FBI inspector general's report released last year, agents employed by the bureau raised concerns in October 2002 with Marion Bowman, the Justice Department's deputy general counsel in charge of national security, about the methods used during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay.
An FBI agent stationed at Guantanamo then sent the agency an analysis on November 27, 2002, calling into question the legality of the interrogation techniques, stating that the methods used appeared to violate the US torture statute. Bowman then alerted William "Jim" Haynes, then the Department of Defense general counsel.