WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Guantanamo Bay interrogators degraded and abused a key prisoner but did not torture him when they told him he was gay, forced him to dance with another man and made him wear a bra and perform dog tricks, military investigators said on Wednesday.
The general who heads Southern Command, responsible for the jail for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also said he rejected his investigators’ recommendation to punish a former commander of the prison.
A military report presented before the Senate Armed Services Committee stated a Saudi man, described as the “20th hijacker” slated to have participated in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, was forced by interrogators in late 2002 to wear a bra and had women’s thong underwear placed on his head.
U.S. interrogators also told him he was a homosexual, forced him to dance with a male interrogator, told him his mother and sister were whores, forced him to wear a leash and perform dog tricks, menaced him with a dog and regularly subjected him to interrogations up to 20 hours a day for about two months, the report said.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who headed the probe into FBI accounts of abuse of Guantanamo prisoners by Defense Department personnel, concluded that the man was subjected to “abusive and degrading treatment” due to “the cumulative effect of creative, persistent and lengthy interrogations.” The techniques used were authorized by the Pentagon, he said.
“As the bottom line, though, we found no torture. Detention and interrogation operations were safe, secure and humane,” Schmidt said.
The Pentagon identified the man as Mohamed al-Qahtani and said he ultimately provided “extremely valuable intelligence.”
Schmidt said, “He admitted to being the 20th hijacker, and he expected to fly on United Airlines Flight 93,” which crashed in Pennsylvania.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, himself abused by the North Vietnamese as a Vietnam War POW, noted, “Humane treatment might be in the eye of the beholder.”
Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said terrorism suspects “are not to be coddled.”
“What damage are we doing to our war effort by parading these relatively minor infractions before the press and the world again and again and again while our soldiers risk their lives daily and are given no mercy by the enemy?” Inhofe said.
Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, head of Southern Command, rejected the recommendation by Schmidt and fellow investigator Army Brig. Gen. John Furlow that Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, jail commander at the time, be admonished for failing to monitor and limit that prisoner’s interrogation.
Craddock said the interrogation “did not result in any violation of a U.S. law or policy,” and thus “there’s nothing for which to hold him accountable,” but asked the Army inspector general’s office to look into it.
Miller, who helped introduce Guantanamo-style questioning methods in Iraq ahead of the 2003 abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, would have been the highest-ranking officer punished in connection with the detainee abuse.
The report urged punishment of a Navy lieutenant commander, who wore a mask and was dubbed “Mr. X,” for breaking military law by making death threats to another “high-value” detainee and telling him he would die on “Christian … sovereign American soil.”
The report faulted a female interrogator who smeared fake menstrual blood on a prisoner who had spit in her face, but said it part of an authorized interrogation technique. It also faulted interrogators over two unauthorized techniques — wrapping duct tape around the mouth and head of a chanting detainee and chaining detainees to the floor.
McCain said, “I hold no brief for the prisoners. I do hold a brief for the reputation of the United States of America as to adhering to certain standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they might be.”
The investigation, announced in January, followed the release by the American Civil Liberties Union of FBI documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents described prisoners shackled hand and foot in a fetal position on a floor for 18 to 24 hours, and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. Others said military interrogators had used “torture techniques.”
About 520 men are held at the prison. Many were detained in Afghanistan and have been held for more than three years. Only four have been charged. The United States has classified them as “enemy combatants” and denied them rights accorded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. (Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)