Log Details Harsh Treatment of Guantanamo Detainee

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A detailed log, obtained by Time magazine and verified by the Pentagon, describes harsh treatment of a Guantanamo prisoner who was interrogated for 50 days. The man, who the U.S. government says helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks, was forced to urinate on himself and wear pictures of naked women around his neck.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The debate over the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo now includes a detailed log of how one detainee was treated. A man considered especially dangerous was interrogated for 50 days, forced to urinate on himself and to wear pictures of naked women around his neck. The log was compiled by interrogators starting in late 2002. They were working at the naval base in Cuba where the US holds hundreds of detainees, and this log, which was obtained by Time magazine, and verified by the Pentagon, describes the way the interrogators tried to get information out of him. Adam Zagorin reported this story for Time.

Good morning.

Mr. ADAM ZAGORIN (Time Magazine): Good morning.

INSKEEP: So who was this suspect, Mohammed al-Qahtani?

Mr. ZAGORIN: Well, he's the so-called 20th hijacker. And he bears that name because he tried to get into the United States on a commercial flight, landing at Orlando, shortly before 9/11, in August 2001. He was deported after giving a story that didn't cut the mustard with the immigration officials at the airport. But the United States later determined that Mohamed Atta had been waiting in the parking lot to pick him up and there were various other indications that he was to have been on one of the flights--actually, the flight that went into Pennsylvania and crashed in the countryside was the flight they believe he was supposed to be on.

INSKEEP: So he didn't get into the country. He was later arrested, captured in Afghanistan. He was taken to Guantanamo. A guy originally from Saudi Arabia--What did the government do to get information out of him?

Mr. ZAGORIN: Well, they used a whole variety of tactics--sleep depravation. Humiliation was quite a big theme. They got him to bark like a dog at one point. They had a female interrogator violate his personal space in a way that the detainee, at least according to the log, found extremely objectionable. He at one point threatened to commit suicide in response to those violations of his personal space. They also engaged him in theological debates, about God's will, the meaning of the Koran and whether he had been carrying out God's will in trying to kill all these people. In other words, they tried to--they used guilt. They showed him videos of the 9/11 episode, the twin towers, and so forth. They showed him victims of the crime. They asked him to write letters of apology to the victims' families.

INSKEEP: Was this treatment typical based on the reporting you've done on other prisoners, detainees at Guantanamo?

Mr. ZAGORIN: Well, some of it would have been applied to other detainees that were being interrogated, but, on December 2nd, which was relatively early in his interrogation, Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of Defense, specifically authorized a ratcheting up of the harsh tactics that were going to be used because they were not satisfied that the information he was giving was adequate. They felt he knew more. And that specific authorization was rescinded by Rumsfeld on January 12th, 2003, one day after the log that we obtained ends. So he had a special regime that was cooked up by the Pentagon specifically for him, and, I believe, one other detainee that we know of, who they wanted to apply special pressure to.

INSKEEP: Is there any record here of beatings or of torture in this particular log?

Mr. ZAGORIN: In this log there's no record of beatings. There's no record here that we can see for certain of physical torture. He does lapse into a quite apparently dangerous medical condition. It's not clear what causes that. His heartbeat goes down quite dramatically at one point in the log. Why or how that happens is not immediately clear. One cause could be dehydration. He's refusing food and water intermittently through the interrogation but it's not absolutely certain.

INSKEEP: And one other thing, Mr. Zagorin, in your report in Time magazine, you detail a wide range of information that the US military says it ultimately got out of this man through these techniques. How confident can we be that the information this man provided was reliable?

Mr. ZAGORIN: Well, the Pentagon told us that he gave up various important, quote, unquote, "actionable intelligence," which means that they would find out about it and be able to use it in ways that would cause them to take actions that they wouldn't otherwise take. And he did talk about meeting bin Laden, meeting other key al-Qaeda figures, being at a very important, elite al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. If he did, indeed, say and did all these things, one can see that they would be quite useful in all likelihood to the government.

INSKEEP: Adam Zagorin of Time magazine, thanks very much.

Mr. ZAGORIN: Thank you.

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