January 21, 2009

US Official: Suspect in a Guantánamo Trial Case Was Tortured

Finally an outspoken Bush administration official has said it straight. In an interview with Bob Woodward in the Washington Post, Susan J. Crawford, who is in charge of the military commissions for trying terrorism suspects, says that US has tortured a detainee in Guantánamo Bay. (Thanks to Andy Worthington for the link.)
The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."


The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, 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.
Sleep deprivation alone is a very serious method of torture, as any person with experience of severe insomnia knows very well. Sleep deprivation over several days is enough to drive a person insane. Added to other forms of mental and physical hardship it is simply devastating.

God bless you, Ms. Crawford, but why didn't you speak out before the last week of the outgoing administration? You have, after all, been in charge of the military commissions since February 2007. Were there any specific threats made against speaking out?

This is a clear signal for the incoming US authorities to start examining possible war crimes by administration officials during the 7 past years of war against terror.

Unfortunately the interview also contains some serious bullshit.
The Qahtani case underscores the challenges facing the incoming Obama administration as it seeks to close the controversial detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including the dilemmas posed by individuals considered too dangerous to release but whose legal status is uncertain.


"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 said of Qahtani, who remains detained at Guantanamo. "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.' "
If someone's legal status is uncertain, he should be released. Nobody is "too dangerous to release". That is just hyperbole. If there is reasonable suspicion of malicious intent, the person can be subjected to intensified surveillance after release. Other persons with similar intent outside of the radar screens of US intelligence—and they do exist—are much, much more dangerous. Already identified suspects, even if released because of a lack of evidence, are the least of the problems. (I've heard of hijacking planes or cars or other vehicles, but a muscle hijacker? Is that like jumping to somebody's back and saying, "to Havana, pronto!"?)

Anyway, the war on terror(ism)—an inane euphemism though it is—was supposed to be a struggle between ideas. Ms. Crawford and other US authorities are clearly missing the forest for the trees by focusing so heavily on specific individuals. There is a very fitting Finnish proverb ("ei sota yhtä miestä kaipaa"), which roughly means that no single man is needed in a war. (Everybody is needed, but nobody is irreplaceable.)

It is quite simple really. All detainees should be either tried or released. If some doubt remains of the guilt a suspect, one should keep an eye out after release. One might even find his way to some co-conspirators.

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