Saturday, April 15, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld closely monitored the late 2002 interrogation of a key Guantanamo Bay prison detainee at the same time that the prisoner was subjected to treatment that a military investigator later called "degrading and abusive," according to newly released documents.
The documents, portions of a December 2005 Army inspector general report, disclosed for the first time that Rumsfeld spoke weekly with the Guantanamo commander, Major Geoffrey Miller, about the progress of the interrogation of a Saudi man suspected of a connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The intense attention Rumsfeld and Miller were paying to the interrogation raises new questions about their later claims that they knew nothing about the tactics interrogators used, which included a range of physically intense and sexually humiliating techniques similar to those in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq.
Over a six-week period, according to subsequent investigations, the detainee was subjected to sleep deprivation, stripped naked, forced to wear women's underwear on his head, denied bathroom access until he urinated on himself, threatened with snarling dogs, and forced to perform tricks on a dog leash, among other things.
Rumsfeld offered to resign after the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison came to light in 2004, but President Bush rejected his offer. Rumsfeld is now under fire from many retired generals who have called for his ouster because of his handling of the Iraq war, but yesterday Bush again expressed confidence in the defense secretary.
The new documents cast further light on the period following the Sept. 11 attacks, but before the Iraq invasion, during which harsh interrogation techniques were developed at Guantanamo that later migrated to Abu Ghraib.
In the case of the Saudi detainee, a military investigation last summer concluded that the treatment of the prisoner crossed the line into abuse but stopped short of torture. The investigation also found that the tactics were covered by a list of vaguely worded guidelines that Rumsfeld had approved in early December 2002, then rescinded in January 2003.
The tactics -- which were approved for use on the Saudi detainee, Mohamed al-Qahtani -- included forced nudity, prolonged isolation, standing for long periods, playing on "individual phobias" such as dogs, and others designed to lower the pride and ego of the detainee.
The Sept. 11 Commission later concluded that Qahtani was an Al Qaeda member who probably would have been the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. In August 2001, he was turned away from Orlando International Airport by a suspicious immigrations officer while Sept. 11 ringleader Mohammed Atta waited in the lobby. Qahtani was later captured in south Asia and brought to Guantanamo.
The documents released yesterday, which the online magazine Salon obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and partially posted on its website, shed new light on a critical period in Guantanamo's history.
The newly released information included a sworn statement given to the inspector general by Lieutenant General Randall Schmidt, an Army investigator who last year examined claims by FBI agents that they had witnessed "torture techniques" on Guantanamo prisoners. Schmidt told the inspector general that Rumsfeld had been "personally involved in the interrogation of one person" -- Qahtani -- and was "talking weekly" with Miller about its progress.
But more than two years later, when Schmidt interviewed Rumsfeld about the treatment of Qahtani, the defense secretary expressed incredulity, saying: "My God, you know, did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy's head?"
Schmidt concluded that Rumsfeld did not specifically authorize the "creative" tactics, but that the vagueness of his instructions had allowed the abuses to occur. "There were no limits," Schmidt said in his statement.
The international group Human Rights Watch yesterday called for a special prosecutor to investigate Rumsfeld and others who were involved in the harsh interrogations, saying the techniques used on Qahtani "were so abusive that they amounted to torture." "The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it's whether he should be indicted," said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch. "General Schmidt's sworn statement suggests that Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on Qahtani."
A Defense Department spokeswoman e-mailed a statement insisting that the Pentagon "did not have a policy that encouraged or condoned abuse," calling any suggestion to the contrary "fiction." She did not respond to specific questions about the newly released report.
Since May 2004, when the photographs of the Abu Ghraib scandal were published, the military has conducted a dozen investigations into its treatment of detainees at its prisons in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The investigations have concluded that there was no deliberate policy of mistreatment, instead blaming numerous cases of abuse on rogue low-level interrogators, confusion over changing rules, and lax supervision. In one review, an independent panel faulted Rumsfeld for failing to set clear rules for interrogations. The most egregious abuses took place at the Abu Ghraib prison, where photographs showed US soldiers abusing detainees in the fall of 2003 -- shortly after Miller traveled from Guantanamo to Iraq and offered suggestions about how to improve interrogations.
Miller, who has denied suggesting the tactics seen in the Abu Ghraib photographs, is now working a desk job at the Pentagon. In an unusual move for a military officer, he has invoked his right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying in the court-martial of a soldier at Abu Ghraib.
In the documents released yesterday, Schmidt said he found Miller's account that he did not know what was happening to Qahtani "hard to believe," given the general's frequent conversations with Rumsfeld about developments in the case.
The inspector general, however, did not find enough evidence to hold Miller accountable for the abuses of Qahtani.
But in his report last summer, Schmidt recommended reprimanding Miller for failing to adequately supervise the Qahtani interrogation. However, the leader of the US Southern Command, General Bantz J. Craddock, rejected Schmidt's recommendation, saying the interrogation of Qahtani did not violate military law. Prior to being named to head Southcom, Craddock was Rumsfeld's senior military assistant.