- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that the U.S. extracted valuable inside information on al Qaeda from a would-be September 11 hijacker who underwent rough interrogation tactics at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Rumsfeld said information from Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called “20th hijacker,” and others led to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks; the identities of 20 bodyguards of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden; and the disruption of planned terror attacks around the world.

“He has direct ties to al Qaeda’s top leadership, including Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference in opening remarks meant to respond to an article in the June 20 issue of Time magazine about a secret log that detailed how the Americans broke al-Qahtani.

“While at Guantanamo, Qahtani and other detainees have provided valuable information, including insights into al Qaeda planning for September 11, including recruiting and logistics.”

Mr. Rumsfeld approved techniques such as mild physical contact, stress positions and isolation in December 2002 for a select group of detainees, including al-Qahtani.

A bin Laden confidant, al-Qahtani tried to enter the U.S. in August 2001 to join the al Qaeda hijackers. But an alert immigration official refused him entry and al-Qahtani returned to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, where he was later captured by coalition authorities and was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002.

Al-Qahtani turned into a font of information on al Qaeda, including its planning and its personalities, Pentagon officials say. But it is the way that a specially trained team of interrogators got the nuggets of data that has human rights groups leveling charges of “torture” and calling for an independent investigation.

The prison log, as reported by Time, details an hour-by-hour campaign to break the hardened al Qaeda operative using techniques the Pentagon considered harsh, but short of torture. At the time, U.S. officials were eager to learn whether future attacks on the nation were in the pipeline.

The defense secretary is one of the administration’s most hard-nosed players against Islamic terrorists. He has offered no apology for authorizing rough interrogation tactics, although he rescinded much of the order in January 2003 after Pentagon lawyers doubted the tactics’ effectiveness.

“The kind of people held at Guantanamo include terrorist trainers, bomb-makers, extremist recruiters and financiers, bodyguards of Osama bin Laden and would-be suicide bombers,” Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday. “They are not common car thieves.”

The Pentagon built the detention center, later to be named Camp Delta, to house the hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters captured after the invasion of Afghanistan. The prison is both a place to interrogate detainees and a mechanism to keep them from returning to al Qaeda.

It was put at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, outside U.S. territory, to ensure that the Pentagon had complete discretion over detainees’ futures. But defense lawyers have upset Pentagon plans by going to court in the U.S. and winning a ruling that detainees must have access to some type of judicial proceedings.

Responding to calls from Democrats and some Republicans that Guantanamo be closed, Mr. Rumsfeld remains resolute.

“As long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility will continue to be needed,” he said of the jail that costs nearly $100 million per year to operate.

“The real problem is not Guantanamo Bay. The problem is that, to a large extent, we are in unexplored territory with this unconventional and complex struggle against extremism.”

Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International, has likened the 520-inmate detention center at Guantanamo to the Soviet gulag, the network of forced labor camps, set up by Josef Stalin, where millions died.

The group’s U.S. director has called Mr. Rumsfeld an “architect of torture” and suggested that other countries indict and arrest him.

Mr. Rumsfeld has rejected the criticism.

“The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was established for the simple reason that the United States needed a safe and secure location to detain and interrogate enemy combatants,” he said. “It was the best option available.”

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