Thursday, July 14, 2005

A military investigation of interrogations at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found no torture occurred, but one high-value al Qaeda operative was subjected to “abusive and degrading treatment” when he was forced to wear a brassiere, do dog tricks and stay awake for 20 hours a day.

“We looked at this very, very carefully — no torture occurred,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt testified yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Detention and interrogation operations across the board … looking through all the evidence that we could, were safe, secure and humane.”

Gen. Schmidt’s investigative report marked the most extensive look yet at the Bush administration’s jailing and interrogation of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban operatives seized in Afghanistan since the late 2001 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

Human-rights groups like Amnesty International and some congressional Democrats, including Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, have accused the administration of torturing detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

“It is clear from the report that detainee mistreatment was not simply the product of a few rogue military police on a night shift,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “Rather, this mistreatment arose from the use of aggressive interrogation techniques. The purpose of those activities, whether authorized or not, was to obtain intelligence.”

FBI agents assigned to the prison complained of what they considered abusive treatment. Based on 26 e-mails sent in 2002 by the agents, the Pentagon ordered U.S. Southern Command, led by Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, to investigate.

Gen. Schmidt said the e-mails, and surveys of all 493 FBI agents who worked at the camp, boiled down to nine purported cases of abuse out of 24,000 interrogations. Two were unsubstantiated; five were substantiated, but authorized by the Army Field Manual or by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; and two were substantiated as unauthorized tactics that resulted in abuse.

Mr. Rumsfeld later rescinded his authorization for stress-inducing tactics after Pentagon lawyers objected.

Of those two substantiated incidents, in one case, a detainee was chained to the floor briefly for the protection of guards; in the other, an interrogator placed duct tape on the mouth of an inmate who refused to stop chanting.

The Schmidt report depicted a clash of cultures: the FBI agents were seeking to gain information in accordance with criminal investigative procedures for court cases; the military was seeking to acquire hard intelligence on which authorities could act to thwart more planned al Qaeda attacks and capture or kill terrorists still at large.

“We needed actionable intelligence on the Department of Defense side,” Gen. Schmidt testified. “Time was an element.”

Gen. Schmidt provided the most detailed public testimony to date on how the military interrogators broke Saudi Arabian-born Mohammed al Kahtani, who was to be the 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks on America.

A trained al Qaeda terrorist, Kahtani was denied access to the U.S. at the Orlando International Airport in Florida and forced to return to Afghanistan. The U.S. captured him in December 2001 and sent him to Guantanamo two months later.

By the fall of 2002, Kahtani had resisted all conventional interrogation techniques, and Mr. Rumsfeld approved more aggressive action.

The authorized tactics included forcing him to wear women’s clothes, calling him a homosexual, insulting his mother and sister as “whores,” interrogating him for 20 hours a day, and having women touch him suggestively. No other prisoner was treated this way, the witnesses said.

“All this to lower his personal sense of worth,” Gen. Schmidt testified. He said the Geneva Conventions on the rights of prisoners of war does not allow such sexual humiliation; President Bush ruled, however, that Guantanamo detainees are enemy combatants, not POWs entitled to all Geneva guarantees.

In the end, Gen. Craddock said, Kahtani started talking and the military reaped “solid intelligence gains.” The military learned how al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, planned the September 11 attacks, recruited terrorists, financed operations and entered the United States, he said.

Gen. Craddock said he overruled Gen. Schmidt’s recommendation that the then-prison commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, be admonished for not better supervising the Kahtani interrogation. Gen. Craddock said that since the methods did not violate defense policy, he did not believe he should discipline the general.

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