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Context of 'Late 2002: Tortured ‘20th Hijacker’ Provides Clues about Bin Laden’s Trusted Courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed'

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Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: FBI]About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [CNN, 8/30/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002] According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 18] Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. [USA Today, 2/12/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. [New York Times, 1/31/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). [Australian, 12/24/2002] He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin [BBC, 8/15/2003] , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). [CNN, 3/14/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). [CNN, 8/14/2003; CBS News, 8/15/2003] Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002] Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). [Newsweek, 7/9/2003; New York Post, 7/10/2003] Many other media reports will identify him as being there. [Independent, 6/6/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” [Newsweek, 7/9/2003] In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file] He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” [Newsweek, 12/16/2008]
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/2001; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 59] He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3] (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) [CNN, 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/6/2006]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Time, 9/15/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002] German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” [New York Times, 8/24/2002] Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001] Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002] One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). [Guardian, 10/15/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. [Australian, 12/24/2002] US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file]
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008]
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. [Cox News Service, 10/21/2001] Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. [ABC News, 11/17/2001] However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. [Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2001] Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file] However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright, 2006, pp. 330] Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. [CNN, 5/15/2003]
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. [Associated Press, 10/2/2002; Newsweek, 10/7/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004] After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). [Observer, 12/12/2006]
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Hambali, Abu Bara al-Taizi, Dhiren Barot, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman, Al-Qaeda, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiyah, Fahad al-Quso, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ulrich Kersten, Yazid Sufaat, Khalid Almihdhar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Salem Alhazmi, Mohamed al-Khatani, Malaysian Secret Service, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez.
Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez. [Source: US Senate]A Saudi named Mohamed al-Khatani is stopped at the Orlando, Florida, airport and denied entry to the US. Jose Melendez-Perez, the customs official who stops him, later says he was suspicious of al-Khatani because he had arrived with no return ticket, no hotel reservations, spoke little English, behaved menacingly, and offered conflicting information on the purpose of his travel. At one point, al-Khatani said that someone was waiting for him elsewhere at the airport. After 9/11, surveillance cameras show that Mohamed Atta was at the Orlando airport that day. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says: “It is extremely possible and perhaps probable that [al-Khatani] was to be the 20th hijacker.” Al-Khatani boards a return flight to Saudi Arabia. He is later captured in Afghanistan and sent to a US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see December 2001). Melendez-Perez says that before 9/11, customs officials were discouraged by their superiors from hassling Saudi travelers, who were seen as big spenders. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004; Time, 6/12/2005] Al-Khatani will later confess to being sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see July 2002), and in June 2001 US intelligence was warned that KSM was sending operatives to the US to meet up with those already there (see June 12, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Mohamed Atta, Jose Melendez-Perez, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed al-Khatani.Mohamed al-Khatani. [Source: Defense Department]Saudi national Mohamed al-Khatani is captured at the Pakistani-Afghan border and transferred to US authorities. [Washington File, 6/23/2004] He tells his captors that he was in Afghanistan to pursue his love of falconry, an explanation no one takes seriously. [Time, 6/12/2005] His identity and nationality are at this time unknown. However, investigators will later come to believe he was an intended twentieth hijacker for the 9/11 plot (see July 2002).

Entity Tags: Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The interrogation and abuse of suspect Mohamed al-Khatani (sometimes spelled “al-Qahtani”—see February 11, 2008) at Guantanamo Bay begins. He is alleged to have tried to enter the US to participate in the 9/11 plot as the twentieth hijacker. He is classified as “Detainee 063.” He is subjected to 160 days of isolation in a pen flooded 24 hours a day with bright artificial light, that treatment starting well before harsher interrogation tactics begin six weeks later (see November 23, 2002). The tactics include:
bullet He is interrogated for 48 of 54 days, for 18 to 20 hours at a stretch.
bullet He is stripped naked and straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called “invasion of space by a female.”
bullet He is forced to wear women’s underwear on his head and to put on a bra.
bullet He is threatened by dogs, placed on a leash, and told that his mother was a whore.
bullet He is stripped naked, shaved, and forced to bark like a dog.
bullet He is forced to listen to American pop music at ear-splitting volume. He is subjected to a phony kidnapping (see Mid-2003).
bullet He is forced to live in a cell deprived of heat
bullet He is given large quantities of intravenous liquids and denied access to a toilet
bullet He is deprived of sleep for days on end.
bullet He is forcibly given enemas, and is hospitalized multiple time for hypothermia.
Impact - Towards the end of the extended interrogation session, Al-Khatani’s heart rate drops so precipitously (to 35 beats a minute) that he is placed under cardiac monitoring. Interrogators meticulously note his reactions to his treatment, and make the following notes at various times: “Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Dizzy. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Yelled for Allah. Urinated on himself. Began to cry. Asked God for forgiveness. Cried. Cried. Became violent. Began to cry. Broke down and cried. Began to pray and openly cried. Cried out to Allah several times. Trembled uncontrollably.” In November 2002, an FBI agent describes al-Khatani’s condition, writing that he “was talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end.” Al-Khatani confesses to an array of terrorist activities and then recants them; he begs his interrogators to be allowed to commit suicide. The last days of al-Khatani’s interrogation session is particularly intense, since interrogators know that their authorization to use harsh techniques may be rescinded at any time. They get no useful information from him. By the end of the last interrogation, an Army investigator observes that al-Khatani has “black coals for eyes.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Reaching the Threshold - In the summer of 2007, Dr. Abigail Seltzer, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma victims, reviews the logs of al-Khatani’s interrogations. Seltzer notes that while torture is not a medical concept: “[O]ver the period of 54 days there is enough evidence of distress to indicate that it would be very surprising indeed if it had not reached the threshold of severe mental pain…. If you put 12 clinicians in a room and asked them about this interrogation log, you might get different views about the effect and long-term consequences of these interrogation techniques. But I doubt that any one of them would claim that this individual had not suffered severe mental distress at the time of his interrogation, and possibly also severe physical distress.” Everything that is done to al-Khatani is part of the repertoire of interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002).
Fundamental Violation of Human Rights - In 2008, law professor Phillippe Sands will write: “Whatever he may have done, Mohammed al-Khatani was entitled to the protections afforded by international law, including Geneva and the torture convention. His interrogation violated those conventions. There can be no doubt that he was treated cruelly and degraded, that the standards of Common Article 3 were violated, and that his treatment amounts to a war crime. If he suffered the degree of severe mental distress prohibited by the torture convention, then his treatment crosses the line into outright torture. These acts resulted from a policy decision made right at the top, not simply from ground-level requests in Guantanamo, and they were supported by legal advice from the president’s own circle.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Mohamed al-Khatani, Donald Rumsfeld, Abigail Seltzer, Phillippe Sands

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two days after General Rick Baccus has been relieved from duty as the guard commander at Guantanamo (see October 9, 2002), and almost one and a half months since the writing of the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) August memo on torture (see August 1, 2002), military intelligence at Guantanamo begin suggesting new rules of interrogation. Lieutenant Colonel Jerald Phifer, Director J2, sends a memo, to Major General Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more severe interrogation techniques. [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008] In 2009, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will write (see April 21, 2009) that Dunlavey’s request is sparked by recent reports on the use of SERE training techniques for interrogation purposes (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002). [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Three Categories of Techniques - The memo states, “The current guidelines for interrogation procedures at GTMO [Guantanamo] limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance.” Phifer proposes three categories of techniques. The mildest, which includes yelling and weak forms of deception, are included in category one. Category two techniques are more severe and require approval by an “interrogator group director.” They include the use of stress positions for up to four hours; use of falsified documents; isolation for up to 30 days; sensory deprivation and hooding; 20-hour interrogations; removal of comfort and religious items; replacing hot food with cold military rations; removal of clothing; forced grooming, including the shaving of beards; and playing on detainees’ phobias to induce stress, such as a fear of dogs. The harshest techniques, listed in category three, are to be reserved for a “very small percentage of the most uncooperative detainees” and only used with permission from the commander of the prison. These methods include using non-injurious physical contact like poking or grabbing; threatening a detainee with death or severe pain or threatening that a family member would be subjected to such harm; exposing him to cold weather or water; using a wet towel to “induce the misperception of suffocation.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008]
Desire to Extract More Information from Detainee - The request is prompted in part by military intelligence’s belief that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani has more information than the FBI has managed to extract from him. “Al-Khatani is a person in… whom we have considerable interest,” Dell’Orto will explain during a 2004 press briefing at the White House. “He has resisted our techniques. And so it is concluded at Guantanamo that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” [Washington File, 6/23/2004]
JAG Officer Concludes Tactics are Legal - The same day, a staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane E. Beaver, reviews Phifer’s proposed techniques for legality and, while making qualifications and recommending further review, concludes in a memo to Dunlavey that they are legal. Also the same day, Dunlavey sends the list of techniques to his superior, General James T. Hill, commander of the Southern Command, requesting approval for their use. Dunlavey writes: “Although [the techniques currently employed] have resulted in significant exploitable intelligence the same methods have become less effective over time. I believe the methods and techniques delineated in the accompanying J-2 memorandum will enhance our efforts to extract additional information.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file] Beaver concludes that since President Bush had decided that all the detainees “are not protected by the Geneva Conventions” (see January 18-25, 2002, February 7, 2002), all of the desired techniques are allowable because “no international body of law directly applies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Rick Baccus, George W. Bush, James T. Hill, Carl Levin, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Diane E. Beaver, Michael E. Dunlavey, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be “20th 9/11 hijacker,” reveals crucial information about Osama bin Laden’s courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence already knows some details about Ahmed, based on interrogations of other prisoners, but they only know him by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and they don’t yet know how important a courier he is. Around this time, al-Khatani faces harsh interrogation techniques that even a senior Bush administration official will later say meet the legal definition of torture (see January 14, 2009). Al-Khatani gives the name “Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti” (with two A’s in Ahmed). He says that Ahmed is a “senior al-Qaeda facilitator” and a “courier” who worked for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and others. When al-Khatani was preparing to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed gave him computer training in Karachi, Pakistan, “for his mission to the United States,” on KSM’s orders, indicating that Ahmed had some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He also says that Ahmed was seen in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, and it is possible Ahmed was one of the people with bin Laden in Tora Bora before bin Laden disappeared. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, US intelligence, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999.Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999. [Source: Pubic domain via the New York Times]In the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court rules 5-3 to strike down the Bush administration’s plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. Ruling in favor of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan (see November 8, 2004), the Court rules that the commissions are unauthorized by federal statutes and violate international law. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens says, “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction.” The opinion throws out each of the administration’s arguments in favor of the commissions, including its assertion that Congress had stripped the Supreme Court of the jurisdiction to decide the case. One of the major flaws in the commissions, the Court rules, is that President Bush unilaterally established them without the authorization of Congress. [New York Times, 6/30/2006] During the oral arguments three months before, Hamdan’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the Court: “The whole point of this [proceeding] is to say we’re challenging the lawfulness of the tribunal [the military commissions] itself. This isn’t a challenge to some decision that a court makes. This is a challenge to the court itself, and that’s why it’s different than the ordinary criminal context that you’re positing.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 274-275]
Major Defeat for Bush Administration - Civil libertarian and human rights organizations consider the ruling a shattering defeat for the administration, particularly in its assertions of expansive, unfettered presidential authority. Bush says in light of the decision, he will work with Congress to “find a way forward” to implement the commissions. “The ruling destroys one of the key pillars of the Guantanamo system,” says Gerald Staberock, a director of the International Commission of Jurists. “Guantanamo was built on the idea that prisoners there have limited rights. There is no longer that legal black hole.” The ruling also says that prisoners held as “enemy combatants” must be afforded rights under the Geneva Conventions, specifically those requiring humane treatment for detainees and the right to free and open trials in the US legal system. While some form of military trials may be permissible, the ruling states that defendants must be given basic rights such as the ability to attend the trial and the right to see and challenge evidence submitted by the prosecution. Stevens writes that the historical origin of military commissions was in their use as a “tribunal of necessity” under wartime conditions. “Exigency lent the commission its legitimacy, but did not further justify the wholesale jettisoning of procedural protections.” [New York Times, 6/30/2006] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Five justices on the Supreme Court said Bush had broken the law.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 275]
Hardline Conservative Justices Dissent - Stevens is joined by Justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Anthony Kennedy issues a concurring opinion. Dissenting are Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas, in a dissent signed by Scalia and Alito, calls the decision “untenable” and “dangerous.” Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because of his participation in a federal appeals court that ruled in favor of the administration (see November 8, 2004).
Not Charged for Three Years - Hamdan is a Guantanamo detainee from Yemen, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in June 2002. He is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, in his function as driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. He was not charged with a crime—conspiracy—until mid-2004. [New York Times, 6/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John G. Roberts, Jr, Al-Qaeda, Antonin Scalia, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, International Commission of Jurists, Gerald Staberock, Geneva Conventions, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The US military dismisses charges against Mohammed al-Khatani. In February 2008, al-Khatani was part of a small group of detainees held at the Guantanamo prison charged before a military tribunal with involvement in the 9/11 attacks (see February 11, 2008). Al-Khatani is said to be the would-be “20th hijacker” who was refused entry to the US in August 2001 (see August 4, 2001). However, he was later captured and subjected to months of torture at Guantanamo (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003). The Pentagon official who announces the dismissal of charges against him, Convening Authority Susan Crawford, gives no explanation. The charges are dismissed “without prejudice,” which means they could be reinstated at any time. However, many believe that the charges against him are dismissed because of the torture he underwent, as well as the fact that he appears to have only been a unsuccessful low-level figure in the plot. [New York Times, 5/14/2008] In 2006, MSNBC predicted that he would never face trial due to the way he was tortured (see October 26, 2006). However, he still remains imprisoned at Guantanamo. In January 2009, Crawford will confirm that she dismissed the case against al-Khatani because he was indeed tortured (see January 14, 2009). She will say that the treatment suffered by al-Khatani “did shock me,” and will continue: “I was upset by it. I was embarrassed by it. If we tolerate this and allow it, then how can we object when our servicemen and women, or others in foreign service, are captured and subjected to the same techniques? How can we complain? Where is our moral authority to complain? Well, we may have lost it.” Crawford will lay much of the blame for al-Khatani being tortured at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “A lot of this happened on his watch,” she will say. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Mohamed al-Khatani, Susan Crawford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Mohamed al-Khatani in September 2009.Mohamed al-Khatani in September 2009. [Source: US Defense Department]Military prosecutors at Guantanamo say they are going to file new war crimes charges against Mohamed al-Khatani, the so-called “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 plot. The senior official in charge of prosecutions at Guantanamo, Susan Crawford, dismissed similar charges against al-Khatani six months before (see May 13, 2008). Military officials now say that even though al-Khatani was originally interrogated using previously approved, then later disapproved, techniques (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002), those previous interrogations will not make it impossible to try him. Speculation has been rife that Crawford dismissed the charges against al-Khatani over concerns that he was tortured at Guantanamo. (In 2009, Crawford will verify that al-Khatani was indeed tortured—see January 14, 2009). Colonel Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, says of al-Khatani, “His conduct is significant enough that he falls into the category of people who ought to be held accountable by being brought to trial.” According to evidence compiled by the 9/11 Commission, al-Khatani was slated to have been one of the “muscle hijackers” (see August 4, 2001). Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Broyles, al-Khatani’s defense lawyer, says new charges filed against his client would be disturbing. “It speaks about the moral bankruptcy of this whole process,” Broyles says, “that there’s nothing we can do to these people that is too much, that there are no consequences for our own misconduct.” [New York Times, 11/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Mohamed al-Khatani, Susan Crawford, Bryan Broyles, Lawrence J. Morris

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Susan Crawford.Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; 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. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Darrel Vandeveld

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Susan Crawford, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Geoff Morrell, Obama administration, Darrel Vandeveld

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Geoff Morrell, James L. Pohl, Jennifer Daskal, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, US Department of Justice, Kirk Lippold, Robert Gibbs, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, releases some files on about 750 prisoners held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. This covers all but about 15 of the prisoners who have passed through the prison since it opened in early 2002 (see January 11, 2002). Nearly all of the prisoners were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or associated Islamist militant groups. The files were written by US military intelligence officials between the prison’s opening and January 2009. They contain assessments on whether each prisoner should remain in US custody, be imprisoned by another country, or be set free. Most of the prisoners have been released over the years, and no new prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2007, but 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo in April 2011. Seven news organizations—the New York Times, The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and NPR (National Public Radio)—were given early access to the files by WikiLeaks in order to vet and analyze them. Their publication was sped up when the New York Times prepared to publish them after claiming to get copies of them from another unnamed source. The Obama administration immediately condemns the publication of the classified information in the files. [New York Times, 4/24/2011; New Yorker, 4/25/2011]
Files Often Contain Dubious Evidence - Journalists who analyze the files question the accuracy of their prisoner assessments. The New York Times comments that the files “show that the United States has imprisoned hundreds of men for years without trial based on a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past, and what they might do in the future.” Furthermore, the files “reveal that the analysts sometimes ignored serious flaws in the evidence—for example, that the information came from other detainees whose mental illness made them unreliable. Some assessments quote witnesses who say they saw a detainee at a camp run by al-Qaeda but omit the witnesses’ record of falsehood or misidentification. They include detainees’ admissions without acknowledging other government documents that show the statements were later withdrawn, often attributed to abusive treatment or torture.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] The Guardian comments that Guantanamo has been “a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of [prisoners who were] the bad, the accidental, and the irrelevant.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011] McClatchy Newspapers comments: “The world may have thought the US was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11. But [the files] not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo ‘quite simply a mess.’”
Files Dependant on Dubious Informants - McClatchy further claims that the files were “tremendously dependant on informants—both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al-Qaeda insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.” The information in the files is based on other sources, including intelligence documents and some confessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011] The New York Times similarly comments that “Guantanamo emerges from the documents as a nest of informants, a closed world where detainees were the main source of allegations against one another and sudden recollections of having spotted a fellow prisoner at an al-Qaeda training camp could curry favor with interrogators.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Files Also Based on Torture and Legally Questionable Methods - The files rarely mention the abuse and torture scandals concerning treatment of US prisoners in Guantanamo, in secret CIA prisons, in other overseas US-run prisons, and in prisons run by some US allies where the use of torture was more widespread. However, there are hints. For instance, one file on an Australian man sent to Guantanamo in 2002 mentions that he confessed while “under extreme duress” and “in the custody of the Egyptian government” to training six of the 9/11 hijackers in martial arts. But despite the apparent seriousness of this accusation, he was released in early 2005. Additionally, important prisoners such as Abu Zubaida held in secret CIA prisons were shown photos of Guantanamo prisoners and asked about them around the time they were subjected to waterboarding and other torture methods. The interrogations of Zubaida, who was waterboarded many times (see May 2003), are cited in over 100 prisoner files. However, his accusations against others have been systematically removed from government filings in court cases in recent years, which would indicate that officials are increasingly doubtful about his reliability and/or the legality of his tortured confessions. Also, many foreign officials were allowed to interrogate some prisoners in Guantanamo, including officials from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tajikistan. Information in some files comes from these legally questionable interrogation sessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] One well-known case of torture involved Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker (see December 2001). While being held in Guantanamo, he was interrogated for months with techniques that the senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trial later said legally met the definition of torture (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). His file says, “Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention,” his confessions “appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.” Claims al-Khatani made regarding 16 other Guantanamo prisoners are mentioned in their files without any caveats about the interrogation methods used on him. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Some Prisoners Unjustly Held - Some prisoners appear to be clearly innocent, and yet they often were held for years before being released. Some prisoners are still being held even though their files indicate that their interrogators are not even sure of their identities. In some cases, prisoners were held for years not because they were suspected of any crime, but because it was thought they knew useful information. For instance, files show one prisoner was sent to Guantanamo because of what he knew about the secret service of Uzbekistan. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] In a cruel twist of fate, one man, Jamal al-Harith, appears to have been imprisoned mainly because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban. His file states, “He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Prisoner Releases Based More on Luck than Evidence - The New York Times claims the determination of which prisoners were released has mostly been a “lottery” that was largely based on which country the prisoner came from. “Most European inmates were sent home, despite grave qualms on the analysts’ part. Saudis went home, even some of the most militant, to enter the rehabilitation program; some would graduate and then join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenis have generally stayed put, even those cleared for release, because of the chaos in their country. Even in clearly mistaken arrests, release could be slow.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] In 2009, the new Obama administration put together a task force that re-evaluated the 240 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo. However, these more recent assessments remain secret. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]

Entity Tags: WikiLeaks, Jamal al-Harith, US Military, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Mohamed al-Khatani, Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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