Sunday, May 18, 2008

Detainee 063

Legal Scholar Philippe Sands writes an amazing essay about Mohammed al-Qahtani -- or Detainee 063 as he was known at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- who is a Saudi national apprehended in Afghanistan in late 2001 and taken to Gitmo in early 2002. He was among those labeled "worst of the worst." Allegedly the 20th hijacker, he was the justification for the Bush Administration's use of torture. His identity was aired in June 2004 in the wake of Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

Former White House Counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, along with another senior legal official in the White House, detailed for the world media why Qahtani was subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques:" He was trained to resist all forms of standard interrogation, and a field level interrogator at Gitmo had gone up the chain of command and, as Gonzales explained, proper legal channels and research had been done to authorize the use of more aggressive means of questioning at the orders of Donald Rumsfeld. One of these techniques -- an ice-cold bath subjecting the prisoner to hypothermia -- was pioneered by the Gestapo. Supposedly, valuable information on Jose Padilla ("dirty bomb" suspect) and Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid were obtained from Qahtani using these techniques. See? It worked!

Well, not so fast. Turns out that -- of course! -- it was all a big lie, pretty much in line with everything Bushco spouts out to justify its actions since 9/11. This didn't matter though; in February 2008, Qahtani was among six detainees named who would face "a military commission on various criminal charges, including murder, attacking civilians and terrorism. The death penalty would be sought. The allegations were thin on detail and - strikingly - made no reference to any information obtained after the new techniques were used."

Again, not so fast. This last week all charges against Qahtani were dropped. Why? Well, no official explanation was given, but it was telling nonetheless. What has emerged in recent months through various investigations and the release of certain documents was that the decision to use aggressive interrogation did not germinate in Gitmo from the bottom up, but from the top down. This is the beginning of what constituted war crimes committed by members of the Bush Administration. If the US cannot "get its house in order," then investigations into those crimes by international courts may ensue.

The House Judiciary Committee has begun investigating the role senior administration officials may have played in this drama. Most senior lawyers are voluntarily testifying, but Cheney's lawyer is under subpoena (naturally).

From the article:
This unhappy story has brought America's fine tradition of military valour into disrepute. It has provided no added protection to this country, or any other, or any other advantages. To the contrary, it will serve to inflame public opinion abroad, and undermine the very objective of national security that was sought, making it more difficult to respond to the real threat of international terrorism. If the House Judiciary Committee does nothing else, it must move to establish the facts, to identify those who are responsible for this mess, to make sure lessons are learnt so it doesn't happen again. The lesson of torture is clear. It does not work.
Ultimately, I believe there is a special place reserved in the Ninth Circle for these perpetrators, from Bush to Cheney to Rumsfeld, from Feith to Rice to Wolfowitz, from DeLay to Boehner to Hastert.

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