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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush administration finally admits to torture

A senior Bush administration official has declared that the US military did indeeed torture a detainee held at Guantanamo.

The official is the retired military judge Susan Crawford, and she is in charge of deciding who stands trial at the detention centre. She says the abusive treatment of Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani left him in a "life-threatening" condition. "We tortured Qahtani,"she said.

Her comment is at odds with repeated denials from US President George W. Bush. He has said the US does not torture. "This Government does not torture people," has been his constant refrain. "I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world. The United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values. I have not authorised it and I will not authorise it."

But now in an explosive interview with the Washington Post, Susan Crawford, one of the key administration officials responsible for dealing with the detainees, single-handedly demolishes this argument. "We tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani," she told reporter Bob Woodward. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture."

That treatment included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to cold. Qahtani was one of six men charged by the military in February 2008 with murder and war crimes for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks. But in May, Crawford decided to dismiss the charges against Qahtani, who was being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A military report has previously revealed Qahtani was forced to wear a woman's bra and had women's underwear placed on his head during the course of his interrogation, which took place over 50 days from late 2002 to early 2003. The military has also admitted Qahtani was tied to a leash and forced to perform a series of dog tricks. The treatment of the man who was allegedly planning to take part in the September 11 terrorist attacks was so intense that he was twice hospitalised in a life-threatening condition.

Susan Crawford, a retired judge who has been the convening authority for the Guantanamo military commissions for the last two years, says the treatment was abusive and uncalled for. It is why she dismissed war crimes charges against him in May last year. The evidence gained from the interrogations is not admissible. Ms Crawford says that while she sympathises with intelligence gatherers in the days after September 11, there still has to be a line the US should not cross.

Sahr Muhammed Ally of the New York based group Human Rights First says she's surprised it's taken so long to get this sort of admission. "Well, I think it's pretty amazing that in the last few days of the Bush administration, a top official is acknowledging that the US military has engaged in torture."

A spokesman for the Pentagon says the interrogation techniques used on Qahtani were authorised by the former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He says while some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on the detainee were permissible at the time, they are no longer allowed.

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