Monday, October 5, 2009

More U.S. Videos of Torture, Judge Orders Some Be Made Available to Defense Team

The following is a most important press release from Center for Constitutional Rights. After years of litigation, we are just now learning that the torture interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani was videotaped. The government sought, and still seeks to block that evidence from coming forward. But now they have been thwarted, in part, by a legal decision which allow one week of these tapes to be made available to the CCR attorneys in the case.
Government Admits Guantánamo Detainee Mohammed al Qahtani’s Torture Videotaped

CCR Blasts Government for Failing to Disclose Existence of Videotapes for Seven Years


October 5, 2009, New York – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) learned today of the existence of video and audio tapes of the abusive interrogations of client Mohammed al Qahtani, the victim of the “First Special Interrogation Plan” personally overseen by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“After the intense scrutiny of the government’s torture and interrogation of Mr. al Qahtani, it is shocking that the government has hidden the existence of these tapes from the public for so many years,” said CCR Attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez. “The government’s interrogation of him has been the topic of multiple military, Justice Department and congressional investigations. These tapes should have been acknowledged long ago.”

Until recently, the Government had adamantly denied that any U.S. personnel engaged in acts of torture during Mr. al Qahtani’s interrogation, but on January 14, 2009, Military Commission Convening Authority Susan Crawford conceded that by subjecting Mr. al Qahtani to systematic 20-hour interrogations, prolonged sleep deprivation, 160 days of severe isolation, forced nudity, sexual and religious humiliation, and other aggressive interrogation tactics, the government had engaged in acts of torture. Much of this information appeared in interrogation logs leaked to the press as early as 2006

Said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren, “Mr. al Qahtani’s torture is already well-established, with a clear paper trail that leads all the way up the chain of command to the desk of Donald Rumsfeld. The revelation of these tapes indicates the government carefully documented horrific evidence of torture and abuse at Guantánamo. The only question that remains is whether the people ultimately responsible for it will be held accountable for breaking the law and breaking faith with our system of justice.”

Mr. Al Qahtani has been incarcerated at Guantánamo since February 2002. Throughout his imprisonment, he has consistently maintained that he was repeatedly tortured and threatened with torture by U.S. military and civilian interrogators. And since Mr. al Qahtani filed his habeas petition in October 2006, he has continued to assert that any alleged admissions he made to U.S. personnel were extracted through this torture and threats of torture.

The government never disclosed the existence of these tapes as exculpatory information in Mr. al Qahtani’s habeas case. CCR had filed a motion in February 2009 to compel the government to turn over exculpatory evidence in their client’s case and to hold the government in contempt for it’s “flagrant violation” of a judge’s November 2008 order to do so. Judge Thomas F. Hogan issued an order in November 2008 (amended in December 2008) requiring the government to turn over promptly any exculpatory evidence it had on the men detained at Guantánamo to their attorneys. The government filed what was essentially a second motion for an extension of time on January 30, 2009. Since the original filing in June 2008, the government has twice delayed its compliance with the court’s orders, engaging in what CCR attorneys described as “improper self-help by granting itself an indefinite extension of time.”

Finally, CCR and co-counsel, Sandra Babcock, filed a motion for discovery in March 2009 seeking any video tapes of Mr. al Qahtani’s interrogation and numerous other records. After seven months of discovery disputes, the court issued the publicly-filed order today.

The videotapes the government is required to produce will reveal the time period at the end of three months of intensive solitary confinement and isolation that immediately preceded the implementation of the “First Special Interrogation Plan,” a regime of systematic torture techniques approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for use against Mr. al Qahtani. In a letter to his superiors reporting possible abuse of men in U.S. custody, T.J. Harrington, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI described Mr. al Qahtani during this time as “evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reportedly hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).”

Mr. al Qahtani is represented by CCR and co-counsel Professor Sandra Babcock, Center for International Human Rights, Northwestern University School of Law.

For more information on Mohammed al Qahtani’s case, click here.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.

Attached Files

* MAQ Order to Disclose Videotapes (PDF)
* TJ Harrington Ltr 7 14 04 (PDF)
Judge Hogan did not release all the video and audio tapes the government has.
To provide relevant information to Petitioner and yet to ease the burden on the Government, the Court will order the Government to produce only those audio/video recordings of Petitioner created between November 15, 2002 and November 22, 2002.
The week in question covers the seven days prior to the beginning of the interrogation log for al-Qahtani, leaked to Time Magazine in 2006. That log begins on November 23, 2002. By Nov. 23, as we know from the log, al-Qahtani had announced he was on hunger strike. He repeats it numerous times during the first day of the interrogation log to which we have access, which speaks to perseveration and already a state of disabled functioning, if not also, a determined will to resist and hold onto a shred of his self integrity.

It’s amazing that we are only hearing of these tapes now. Let’s recall what the torturers were saying about videotaping at Guantanamo in October 2002, during a period prior to that about to be released to Al Qahatani's CCR defense team. Per the minutes of one major meeting at Guantanamo during that autumn:

– At this point a discussion about whether or not to video tape the aggressive sessions, or interrogations at all ensued.

Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don’t want the LEA people in aggressive sessions anyway.

LTC Beaver: LEA choice not to participate in these types of interrogations is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.

Fredman: The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look “ugly”.

Becker: (Agreed)

Al-Qahtani was also discussed:

LTC Phifer: Harsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some, what about those?

MAJ Leso: Force is risky, and may be ineffective due to the detainees’ frame of reference. They are used to seeing much more barbaric treatment.

Becker: Agreed.

– At this point a discussion about ISN 63 [Mohammed al-Qahtani] ensued, recalling how he has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors. After short discussion the BSCT continued to address the overall manipulation of the detainees’ environment.

BSCT continued:

* Psychological stressors are extremely effective (ie, sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time)

COL Cummings: We can’t do sleep deprivation

LTC Beaver: Yes, we can — with approval.

Bravo to CCR for all their work on this. Together with ACLU and PHR, the torturers’ crimes and schemes will ultimately be fully revealed. I believe that accountability will be realized, and this country turned around from the disastrous course of the past decade. But the U.S. people will have to help.

Time again to send a donation to CCR, I’d say.

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