July 14, 2005 in Nation/World

‘20th hijacker’ abused, degraded

Stephen J. Hedges Chicago Tribune
 

WASHINGTON – The Guantanamo detainee suspected of being the would-be “20th hijacker” for the Sept. 11 attacks was subjected to abusive treatment, including being forced to wear a bra and perform a series of “dog tricks” during interrogation, according to an official report made public during a Senate hearing Wednesday.

The military investigators’ report recommended punishment for the commanding officer of the Guantanamo Bay facility at the time, Army Gen. Geoffrey Miller, but that suggestion was overturned by a higher-ranking officer.

The report said Mohamed al-Qahtani – labeled by U.S. officials as the “20th hijacker” – was forced to stand naked before a woman interrogator for at least five minutes, and was made to wear thong underwear on his head and a bra. Qahtani also was told by interrogators that “his mother and sister were whores,” according to the report, and he was led by a dog leash attached to his hand chains and made to do a “series of dog tricks” as part of the interrogation. A second “high value” detainee was told that he and his family would be killed if he did not cooperate.

Despite the harshness of these tactics, it is not clear that they violated any law. The Geneva Conventions prohibit sexually degrading tactics, but the Bush administration has declared that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the Guantanamo detainees, saying they are suspected terrorists rather than prisoners of war.

An abbreviated, unclassified version of the report was made public during a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday.

Despite finding specific instances of harsh treatment of some detainees, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who led the investigation, told senators that “no torture occurred. Detention and interrogation operations across the board, and again, looking through all the evidence that we could, were safe, secure and humane.”

Schmidt did say, however, that other questionable activities raised by the FBI were confirmed, particularly with regard to the treatment of Qahtani. The use of interrogation techniques authorized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Schmidt said, had a “cumulative effect” that had an “abusive and degrading impact on the detainee.”


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