The US may never be able to prosecute an alleged plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because he was tortured, a top Pentagon official said in an interview published on Wednesday.
Susan Crawford, who is charged with deciding whether to bring Guantanamo detainees to trial, told the Washington Post that US interrogators had tortured Saudi terror suspect Mohammed al-Qahtani.
“We tortured Qahtani,” she said, thus becoming the first senior official of the administration of US President George W. Bush to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.
“His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution said Crawford, who is the convening authority of military commissions, a system established by the Bush administration to try unlawful enemy combatants.
Crawford said US military interrogators repeatedly subjected Qahtani, 30, to sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”
“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she said.
“This was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge [to call it torture],” she said.
Qahtani, alleged to be the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, was denied entry to the US one month before the attacks but was captured in Afghanistan and flown to Guantanamo in January 2002.
Qahtani was interrogated over 50 days from November 2002 to January 2003, although he was held in isolation until April 2003, the Post reported.
The timing of the comments by Crawford, just days before US president-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on Tuesday, also raised some questions. Obama has vowed to close the controversial Guantanamo detention facility.
Of the 250 inmates still held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only about 20 have been charged, including the five men accused of helping organize the Sept. 11 attacks.
In related news, a 21-year-old citizen of Chad who has been held for seven years at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba must be released, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
US District Judge Richard Leon said the government had not proven that Mohammed el Gharani was an enemy combatant.
Gharani, also known as Yousuf Al Karany, was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and taken to Guantanamo Bay in early 2002.
The US government had said that Gharani — who was 14 when he was arrested — had stayed in an al Qaeda-affiliated guest house in Afghanistan, had fought in the battle of Tora Bora, had served as a courier for senior al-Qaeda operatives and was a member of a London-based al-Qaeda cell.
But Leon said the government could not prove any of the allegations. He said they relied mainly on information from two other detainees at Guantanamo Bay whose reliability and credibility were questionable.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said yesterday the notion of a “war on terror” was “misleading and mistaken”, in an outspoken critique of a key policy of outgoing President Bush.
Writing in the Guardian, Miliband said the phrase gave the idea of a unified enemy where none existed, and also encouraged a primarily military response to problems that top generals admitted the West could not “kill its way out of.”