New record concerning al-Qahtani interrogation declassified

According to a new document posted in the DoD’s reading room, Gitmo detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani was once confronted by “interrogators posed as foreign nationals and gave [him] the impression that his family may be in jeopardy if he did not cooperate, going as far as having pictures of places, buildings or houses where his family was suspected to reside.” The record is a brief transcript of a 2005 interview with an unnamed Army medical professional who assisted interrogators at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He described coming to Gitmo as a member of the 85th Medical Detachment out of Fort Hood and forming an ad hoc group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) along with two other members of the Detachment.

As part of the mission of the BSCT, the group advised on environmental changes, gave feedback on individual interrogations they witnessed and even helped to “determine interrogation limits.” The BSCT is described as being embedded with the controversial interrogation of al-Qahtani. At least one of the team’s members was always present to witness every single one of his interrogations from late Nov. to mid Dec. 2002. This added up to “hundreds of hours of observations of the interrogation practices and procedures.”

The interrogation official went through some of the tactics used, about half of which are redacted in the document. The stated tactics include:

  • Preventing him from purifying himself in accordance with his culture
  • Subjecting him to loud music for long periods of time
  • Allowing him only four hours a day of non-interrogation time
  • Giving him the impression that his family members were at risk if he did not give up more information

Obviously, this is an incomplete list of the numerous inhuman methods used on Qahtani. A more complete picture of what transpired can be found in a 2009 piece (mirror) from the Washington Post. The article is based on an interview with a top Gitmo military commissions official named Susan J. Crawford. She declared that “[Qahtani’s] treatment met the legal definition of torture.”

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani’s health led to her conclusion. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . 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, she said. […] The interrogation […] was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.

The Army official interview record makes it perfectly clear that “all the interrogation tactics that we used at GTMO had been briefed to and authorized by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.” Apparently, those involved with carrying out the interrogations received a treat at the end of the intensive effort to extract intelligence from Qahtani. The prison camp commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, came to the interrogation site and presented them with awards.

An individual–possibly an FBI agent–whose identity is entirely redacted is mentioned for having “concerns” about the interrogation tactics. He is described as being “uncomfortable” with the methods and reported the possibility of abuse to the camp commander. His other key concern was that information extracted with abusive tactics could not be considered reliable. Maj. Gen. Michael Dunleavy, Miller’s predecessor as camp commander, was present at a meeting when this individual’s concerns were addressed. Both Miller and Dunleavy believed that the use of coercion “would be the best method if given enough time.” Gen. Miller had a favorite quote for the moment: “We’ve got more teeth than they have ass.” This same unnamed individual apparently did not get along with a DIA civilian official who led the interrogation section because he “believed that the only way to extract information from ‘difficult’ detainees was with more physical and psychological pain.”

Near the end of the interview the investigator asks the BSCT member if he felt that detainee abuse took place while he was in Gitmo. The man responded: “I do believe that it is possible for some of the detainees to have some kind of long term or unintended difficulties because of the interrogation practices, but I did not see detainees being subjected to pointless cruelty.”


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