Torture: “The Twentieth Hijacker’s” Case

(10 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

AP reports that charges have been dropped against the alleged “Twentieth Hijacker”, Mohammed al-Qahtani:

The Pentagon has dropped charges against a Saudi at Guantanamo who was alleged to have been the so-called “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11 attacks, his U.S. military defense lawyer said Monday.

Mohammed al-Qahtani was one of six men charged by the military in February with murder and war crimes for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks. Authorities say al-Qahtani missed out on taking part in the attacks because he was denied entry to the U.S. by an immigration agent.

But in reviewing the case, the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford, decided to dismiss the charges against al-Qahtani and proceed with the arraignment for the other five, said Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, the Saudi’s military lawyer.

The charges were dropped without prejudice, meaning that they could be reinstated.  al-Qahtani was to face the death penalty, along with five others, in trials before Military Commissions at Guantanamo.

Why were the charges dropped?  Because al-Qahtani had been tortured. Of course, Crawford did not say.  And his lawyer couldn’t comment yet.  

Officials previously said al-Qahtani had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorized by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. /snip

U.S. authorities have acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding by CIA interrogators and that al-Qahtani was treated harshly at Guantanamo.

Al-Qahtani last fall recanted a confession he said he made after he was tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo.

The alleged torture, which he detailed in a written statement, included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel.

There’s lots of information about exactly how al-Qahtani was tortured.  In fact, there’s a partial log (pdf format) of his interrogation at Guantanamo in Fall, 2002.

In his book, Torture Team, Philip Sands describes al-Qahtani’s treatment in Guantanamo in greater detail:

By the time his interrogators started using “enhanced techniques” to extract information from him, al-Qahtani had been kept in isolation for three months in a cell permanently flooded with light. An official memo shows that he “was talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end”. He was abused, exposed to extreme cold and deprived of sleep for a further 54 days of torture and questioning. What useful testimony could be extracted from a man in this state?

And there are the additional details from from this October, 2006 MSNBC story:

Mohammed al-Qahtani, detainee No. 063, was forced to wear a bra. He had a thong placed on his head. He was massaged by a female interrogator who straddled him like a lap dancer. He was told that his mother and sisters were whores. He was told that other detainees knew he was gay. He was forced to dance with a male interrogator. He was strip-searched in front of women. He was led on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks. He was doused with water. He was prevented from praying. He was forced to watch as an interrogator squatted over his Koran.

That much is known. These details were among the findings of the U.S. Army’s investigation of al-Qahtani’s aggressive interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to the MSNBC article:

In interviews with – the first time they have spoken publicly – former senior law enforcement agents described their attempts to stop the abusive interrogations. The agents of the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigation Task Force, working to build legal cases against suspected terrorists, said they objected to coercive tactics used by a separate team of intelligence interrogators soon after Guantanamo’s prison camp opened in early 2002. They ultimately carried their battle up to the office of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who approved the more aggressive techniques to be used on al-Qahtani and others.

Although they believed the abusive techniques were probably illegal, the Pentagon cops said their objection was practical. They argued that abusive interrogations were not likely to produce truthful information, either for preventing more al-Qaida attacks or prosecuting terrorists.

And they described their disappointment when military prosecutors told them not to worry about making a criminal case against al-Qahtani, the suspected “20th hijacker” of Sept. 11, because what had been done to him would prevent him from ever being put on trial.

So today’s announcement isn’t something that’s completely new.  US authorities have known for quite some time that a trial of al-Qahtani would be a trial in which the details of his torture would have to be established and considered.  And now the other foot has dropped.  al-Qahtani was tortured, and to prevent complete public disclosure of what was done to him and by whom, to veil what happened, the charges against him have been dropped:

Authorities have said they plan to broadcast the trials to military bases in the United States so relatives of the victims of the attacks can see the proceedings.


A trial about torture isn’t exactly what the Government has in mind.  It would prefer something that appeared more just, something that would be better from a public relations standpoint.


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  1. I would like my country back.

    Thanks for reading.  

    • Edger on May 13, 2008 at 17:58

    Do you think that if Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld et al are ever arrested and charged with warcrimes, that they should be treated better than Mohammed al-Qahtani and the other prisoners this administration has been holding in Guantanamo Bay?

    Do you think? At all?

  2. is linked here with a link to the audio of the interview on that page.  I already put a comment re this in tahoebasha’s diary, but will repost it here, FWIW, because you might find it encouraging.  Here’s some info about the interview:

    The NPR and Salon legal analyst Dahlia Lithwizk?  discussed two recent pertinent cases:  The dropping of charges against the “20th” hijacker”, despite a lot of evidence against him, because of the way (torture) that a confession had been extracted from him.  She also mentioned the fact that on Friday a judge ruled that Guantanamo prosecutor Thomas Hartman had:

    “so blurred the roles of prosecution, defense and judges that he could no longer be involved in the case”.  

    The NPR legal analyst went on to say:

    “I think it highlights a problem we’ve talked about for years:”

    “…The government needed to made a decision immediately after 9/11 about whether it wanted to extract information-whether this was in fact, a “ticking time” bomb situation& the most critical thing was to torture people if they needed to–to get information from them, or if you wanted to highlight the rule of law and due process really worked in the West…”  

    “They made a decision to try to do both and it’s becoming clear that you cannot do both.  If you’re going to try to get information out of people, you can’t turn around and try them using that information.  The most interesting thing I think it signals is:  that this is almost a rebellion that’s happening from the ground up-from individual prosecutors, from individual judges, from people who are saying, “look-I’m a military person, I believe that these people are guilty, I believe in these tribunals, but I still can’t go forward under these circumstances, this is not real evidence.”  

    Sorry if this comment is repetitive, but IMHO, it’s an encouraging development that there seems to be a “rebellion” brewing in the military justice ranks against the lawbreaking tactics of the bushies & I just wanted to pass this along to those who hadn’t heard the program.  

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