The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantánamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded the U.S. military tortured a Saudi...

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WASHINGTON — The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantánamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured (Mohammed al-) Qahtani,” said Susan Crawford, who was named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

Crawford, a retired judge, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantánamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani’s health led to her conclusion.

“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. … 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,” she said.

Military prosecutors said in November that they would seek to refile charges against Qahtani, 30, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques. But Crawford, who dismissed war-crimes charges against him in May 2008, said she would not allow the prosecution to go forward.

Qahtani was denied entry into the United States a month before the Sept. 11 attacks and was allegedly planning to be the plot’s 20th hijacker. He was later captured in Afghanistan and transported to Guantánamo in January 2002. His interrogation took place over 50 days from November 2002 to January 2003, though he was held in isolation until April 2003.

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation … (and) was told that his mother and sister were whores.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford said of Qahtani, who remains detained at Gitmo. “What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’ “

That, she said, is a decision that President-elect Obama will have to make.