The Pentagon official overseeing the tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
"We tortured Qahtani," Susan Crawford said in an interview with the newspaper. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.
Crawford, a retired judge who also worked in the Reagan administration, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have said that the United States does not torture.
Crawford told The Post the techniques used in Qahtani’s case were authorized but applied in an overly aggressive and too persistent manner.
"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, Crawford told the newspaper.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told the Post in an e-mail that the agency’s reviews of the interrogation of Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker, concluded the interrogation methods at Guantanamo, including the special techniques used on Qahtani in 2002, were lawful at the time.
Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against Qahtani in May 2008 but he remains at Guantanamo. Crawford said he is dangerous and that she would be hesitant to say ‘Let him go.’
Qahtani was denied entry into the United States a month before the September 11 attacks and was allegedly planning to be the plot’s 20th hijacker, the article said. He was captured in Afghanistan in January 2002 and transported to Guantanamo.
Crawford said she sympathized with intelligence officials who were urgently gathering information in the days after 9/11.
"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," she said.
Crawford told the newspaper that Bush was right to create a system to try unlawful enemy combatants captured in the war on terrorism. But, she said, the implementation was flawed.
President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office next Tuesday, is expected to issue an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also favors shuttering Guantanamo.
But the prison is unlikely to shut until after U.S. officials settle a myriad of legal and logistic issues, including a solution on where to house its occupants.