Tuesday, May 31, 2005

An al Qaeda handbook preaches to operatives to level charges of torture once captured, a training regime that administration officials say explains some of the charges of abuse at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The American Civil Liberties Union last week posted on its Web site 2002 FBI documents regarding accusations from suspected al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the detention center. The organization had won a court decision that forced the administration to release scores of e-mails between agents who had interviewed captives.

U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the prison, is investigating interrogation techniques at “GTMO,” as the naval base in Cuba is called, as well as the FBI-conveyed, unsubstantiated complaints. The U.S. Justice Department inspector general has begun a separate probe.

One investigator, Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, said last week that the most explosive charge so far — that guards flushed the Koran Muslim holy book down a toilet — is not true. The Pentagon tabbed Gen. Hood to conduct a probe into how Islam is treated at the prison in the aftermath of a since-retracted report by Newsweek on the Koran claim.

U.S. officials think the Koran story — told by a detainee who did not see the purported event — might be part of an al Qaeda campaign to spread disinformation.

“There have been allegations made by detainees,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. “We know that members of al Qaeda are trained to mislead and to provide false reports. We know that’s one of their tactics that they use. And so I think you have to keep that in mind.”

In a raid on an al Qaeda cell in Manchester, British authorities seized al Qaeda’s most extensive manual for how to wage war.

A directive lists one mission as “spreading rumors and writing statements that instigate people against the enemy.”

If captured, the manual states, “At the beginning of the trial … the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by state security before the judge. Complain of mistreatment while in prison.”

The handbook instructs commanders to make sure operatives, or “brothers,” understand what to say if captured.

“Prior to executing an operation, the commander should instruct his soldiers on what to say if they are captured,” the document says. “He should explain that more than once in order to ensure that they have assimilated it. They should, in turn, explain it back to the commander.”

An example might have occurred in a Northern Virginia courtroom in February.

Ahmed Omar Abul Ali, accused of planning to assassinate President Bush, made an appearance in U.S. District Court and promptly told the judge that he had been tortured in Saudi Arabia, including a claim that his back had been whipped. He is accused of meeting there with a senior al Qaeda leader.

Days later, a U.S. attorney filed a court document saying physicians had examined Ali and “found no evidence of any physical mistreatment on the defendant’s back or any other part of his body.”

Larry Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said two Guantanamo commanders told him that al Qaeda detainees are experts in circulating false charges among the more than 500 fighters captured in Afghanistan.

“There are elements within the detainee population that were very effective at getting other detainees agitated about the Koran by making allegations,” Mr. Di Rita said. “They particularly focused on the practice of their faith and the Koran being kept from them. So people should not be surprised when detainees come out and make these kinds of allegations. It causes the reactions we’ve seen.”

He added, “None of this is meant to excuse the situation we found when individuals were unfortunately abused at Abu Ghraib. That was wrong.”

There already has been one Pentagon review of accusations of abuse at Guantanamo. Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, the Navy inspector general, released a report in March that found three substantiated closed cases of “minor” abuse in 24,000 interrogations — one assault and two female guards’ making sexually suggestive gestures to detainees.

“It bears emphasis that the vast majority of detainees held by the U.S. in the global war on terror have been treated humanely and that the overwhelming majority of U.S. personnel have served honorably,” Adm. Church wrote.

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