U.S. Torture Tapes Sought By Center for Constitutional Rights

Courthouse News Service, January 10, 2012

MANHATTAN (CN) - The Center for Constitutional Rights wants the Pentagon, CIA and Justice Department to disclose the interrogation tapes of accused Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed al Qahtani, the only Guantanamo detainee that officials admit was tortured.

In a telephone conference Monday, attorneys from the rights group said they have seen the classified videos, but have been gagged from describing them.

"I can say that I found them very disturbing, sickening even," said Sandra Babcock, adding that the videos "have the power to change the debate" on Guantanamo and indefinite detention.

Captured in the Battle of Tora Bora, the U.S. government accused al-Qahtani of plotting to be the "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
A Pentagon official announced in 2008 that charges would be dropped against him "without prejudice" and without explanation, the BBC reported. A military prosecutor brought charges months later to a convening authority, which chose not reinstate them, according to Center for Constitutional Rights spokeswoman Jen Nessel.

One year into his interrogations, Qahtani became "already mentally and physically broken," the rights group says in its new federal complaint.

The FBI observed that Qahtani was "talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end," according to the complaint. While Qahtani was in this mental state, military interrogators introduced a "First Special Interrogation Plan," overruling FBI concerns about "efficacy, coercion and possible illegality," according to a New York Times report cited in the complaint.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the protocols, which are described in the complaint.

"From 2002 to 2003, while he was detained at Guantanamo, Mr. al Qahtani was subjected to systematic twenty-hour interrogations, prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity, sexual and religious humiliation, and other interrogation tactics that were both uniquely harsh and approved at the highest levels, and which caused Mr. al Qahtani severe physical and psychological trauma," the complaint states. Babcock told reporters that Qahtani is a "broken man ... who will possibly never recover from the psychological and physical effects of his torture."

According to the complaint: "On January 14, 2009, Military Commission Convening Authority Susan Crawford conceded that these acts amounted to torture, and determined that as a consequence, Mr. al Qahtani could not be subjected to prosecution before a military commission. Mr. al Qahtani remains the only detainee at Guantanamo whom the government has directly acknowledged having tortured."

The rights group says it has some of the written records of his interrogations, but it wants to show the public the footage.

"The videotapes and photographs here sought are therefore uniquely significant, and will provide the public with critical information regarding the government's interrogation policies as implemented at the detention facility at Guantanamo and perhaps elsewhere - at least some of which may still be in use pursuant to Appendix M of the Army Field Manual. ...

"Mr. al Qahtani's treatment has been the subject of public debate and congressional inquiries, as well as internal agency investigations. The American public should now be permitted to see what occurred for itself," the complaint states.

The torture tactics used on al Qahtani allegedly were used "in part as a psychological experiment," according to the complaint.

"Responding to a question by Senator Carl Levin about the use of the term 'America's "Battle Lab"' to describe Guantanamo, Colonel Britt Mallow acknowledged that high-ranking U.S. officials had referred to Guantanamo as a 'Battle Lab,' meaning that interrogations and other procedures were to some degree experimental, and that their lessons would benefit DOD in other places," the complaint states. "Colonel Mallow stated that he 'personally objected to the implied philosophy that interrogators should experiment with untested methods, particularly those in which they were not trained.'"

Levin, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, co-authored the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, allowing the military to indefinitely detain anyone the government accuses of planning terrorism or supporting terrorists or "associated forces" anywhere in the world, without charge or trial.

During congressional debate, Levin said the bill would turn the United States into a "battlefield." President Obama signed it into law on New Year's Eve. In an earlier interview about that legislation, a Center for Constitutional Rights senior attorney said the new law would make Guantanamo nearly impossible to close.

Lawrence Lustberg, a Gibbons P.C. attorney affiliated with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told reporters that Americans may have become desensitized to Guantanamo's existence.

"Images matter," Lustberg said. "The Abu Ghraib photos changed the conversation about torture in this country. ... Here on the 10-year anniversary of Guantanamo, we fear that the public has become desensitized"

In October, a federal judge declined to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying 92 interrogation tapes of suspected al-Qaida leaders Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri. The Center for Constitutional Rights says the al Qahtani video may be the only remaining audio-visual record of Guantanamo interrogations. The rights group plans to demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to "mark the shameful 10th anniversary of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo."


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