When you torture, criminals go free

We did torture a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, to the point of twice almost killing him. That judgment comes from Susan Crawford, the Bush administration official responsible for convening the military commissions to try the detainees.

As a result, she has withdrawn war crimes charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani. Crawford has impeccable credentials — a retired judge, inspector general of the Pentagon under Dick Cheney and general counsel for the Army in the Reagan administration. She spoke out in an interview with The Washington Post.

Over 50 days in 2002, Qahtani was waterboarded, deprived of asleep, kept in isolation in conditions of extreme cold, threatened with attack dogs, kept in stress positions and led around the room on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks.

These techniques were authorized at the time under the Bush administration’s redefinition of the laws against torture but Crawford found that taken together, and the "overly aggressive and too persistent" manner in which they were applied, "His treatment met the legal definition of torture."

Other than the satisfaction of roughing up a thoroughly unsavory individual, it would be instructive to know what we learned from torturing him that was important enough to jeopardize trying an individual who, except for an alert immigration officer, would have been the 20th 9/11 hijacker.

Especially since the FBI, using acceptable and legally defensible techniques, can show that the lead hijacker, Mohammed Atta, went to Orlando airport to pick up Qahtani only to find that he had been denied entry to the U.S.

Ever persistent, Qahtani, a Saudi national, then showed up in Afghanistan where he was captured and in January, 2002, shipped to Guantanamo. Sometime during the torture he made a confession that he has since recanted.

Crawford said that even if military prosecutors file other war crimes charges based on later, presumably less coercive interrogations, she will not allow the prosecution to go forward.

And the problem for prosecutors is that there are five other "high value" prisoners, including presumed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who may have been tortured. What did we learn from them that was worth wrecking our reputation as a just and humane society?

Crawford told the Post, "If we tolerate this and allow it, then how can we object when our servicemen and women, or others in foreign service, are captured and subjected to the same techniques? How can we complain? Where is our moral authority to complain?" Good question.