Susan Crawford, the “top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial,” tells Bob Woodward in today’s Washington Post that the United States military tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Crawford decided the U.S. could not prosecute Qahtani:
“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. [...]
“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,” said Crawford, a lifelong Republican. “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.”
Crawford dismissed the charges against Qahtani last year. Though military prosecutors refiled charges by using evidence they claim was not coerced, Crawford said she would not allow it to go forward. And now that torture has precluded Qahtani’s prosecution, his status is in question. “He’s a very dangerous man,” Crawford said. “What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him?”
Qahtani is hardly the only detainee whose charges have been dropped due to improper treatment. In October, the Pentagon dismissed cases against five terror suspects, including Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident accused in the “dirty bomb” case:
He has claimed he was tortured while in American custody or in countries to which he said the United States sent him. His lawyers argued Tuesday that the government was trying to avoid having to answer his accusations.
“They have been cornered into doing this to avoid admitting torture,” said Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, a legal organization that represents Mr. Mohamed.
Similarly, detainee David Hicks was released from Guantanamo and sent back to his native Australia in a deal — apparently arranged by Vice President Cheney and then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard — requiring him to renounce his claims of torture and abuse at the hands of the U.S. military.
The tactics used against Qahtani — sexual humiliation, threatening him with military dogs, leading him by a leash and forcing him to perform dog tricks — further confirm that the methods used at Abu Ghraib were not merely the result of “a few bad apples” but rather part of a system of military tactics, approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, used against detainees.