DOD: Consider Whether We’ve Made Detainees Crazy in Periodical Review

Section 1023 of the Defense Authorization mandated that the Administration tell Congress how it was implementing Obama’s Executive Order providing periodic review of Gitmo detainees’ continued need to be detained.


(a) PROCEDURES REQUIRED.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report setting forth procedures for implementing the periodic review process required by Executive Order No. 13567 for individuals detained at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note).

Here’s the directive complying with that requirement.

I’ll have plenty to say about it. But for the moment, I got hung up on this:

3. STANDARD. Continued law of war detention is warranted for a detainee subject to periodic review if such detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. In making that assessment, the PRB may review all relevant materials including information from the final Task Force assessments produced pursuant to Reference (k); the work product of a prior PRB; or any relevant intelligence produced subsequent to either. Application of this standard is specifically not intended to require a re-examination of the underlying materials that supported the work products of either Reference (k) or a prior PRB and is not intended to create a requirement that each PRB conduct a zero-based review of all original source materials concerning a detainee. In assessing whether a detainee continues to meet this standard, the PRB may consider:


(6) The detainee’s physical and psychological condition.

We know, of course, that there are a number of people at Gitmo–starting with Abu Zubaydah and Mohammed al-Qahtani–we’ve driven completely insane with our torture and abuse, who we can’t try but also can’t release (not that we’d release either of these two anyway).

But this seems to be a tacit admission that we won’t release people we’ve driven crazy. Because, Freedom!, I guess. So are we now saying that because our treatment has made them insane we will now use that as reason to keep them in custody?

Though maybe once these guys get to be so old they’re having health problems, maybe then we’ll finally release them.

Richard Ben-Veniste Calls out Obama for Spiking the Privacy Board

I just watched a scintillating panel at the Aspen Security Forum. It featured former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, Alberto Gonzales, ACLU’s Anthony Romero, John Yoo, and David Cole, moderated by Dahlia Lithwick.

The panel itself was notable for the staging of it. The panelists were seated right next to each other, with no table in front. Gonzales sat right next to Romero; Yoo sat right next to Cole. So when Romero corrected Lithwick’s assertion that the Bush Administration had showed respect for using civilian trials with terrorists by recalling that Gonzales had argued for holding American citizen Jose Padilla without trial, Gonzales shifted notably, uncomfortably, by my read. And when Cole rehearsed the language people like Michael Mukasey and Jack Goldsmith used to describe Yoo’s memo all the while pointing with his thumb at Yoo sitting next to him–“solvenly,” he emphasized–Yoo also shifted, though aggressively towards Cole. Before it all ended, Romero started reading from Yoo’s torture memo; Yoo accused him of using Dickensian dramatic delivery.

The physical tension of these men, attempting to contain the contempt they had for each other while sitting in such close proximity, was remarkable.

There were a number of other highlights: John Yoo made the ridiculous claim that no one in the human rights community had come out against drone strikes (Romero came back later and reminded him the ACLU had sued on precisely that issue, representing Anwar al-Awlaki’s family). Gonzales insisted there should be accountability (no matter that he escaped it, both when he politicized DOJ and when he took TS/SCI documents home in his briefcase). Romero hailed Obama’s “willingness to shut down secret sites,” apparently missing Jeremy Scahill’s recent scoop about the CIA-paid prison in Somalia. Yoo, as is typical, lied to protect his actions, not only repeating that canard that torture helped to find Osama bin Laden (rather than delayed the hunt as is the case), but also to claim that warrantless wiertaps helped find the couriers; they did, but those were warrantless wiretaps in the Middle East, not the US!

Just as interesting, though, were the questions. Yoo was somewhat stumped when an IAVA member and former officer asked what an officer who had taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution should do if he received what he believed was an unconstitutional order.

Finally, most interesting came when Richard Ben-Veniste–the former Watergate prosecutor and 9/11 Commissioner–asked questions. He said, first of all, that Mohammed al-Qahtani had been providing information before he was tortured (a claim I’m not sure I’ve heard before, made all the more interesting given that we know the Commission received interrogation reports on a running basis). But then his torture turned him into a “vegetable,” which meant the US was unable to prosecute him.

And then Ben-Veniste raised something that the panel, for all its discussion about accountability, didn’t mention. The 9/11 Commission recommended a privacy board to ensure that there was some balance between civil liberties and security. Bush made a half-assed effort to fulfill that requirement; after 2006, at least, there was a functioning Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. But Obama has all but spiked it, killing it by not appointing the Board.

Particularly given Ron Wyden’s and Mark Udall’s concerns about secret law, it’s time the civil liberties community returned its focus on Obama’s refusal to fulfill the law and support this board. That board is precisely the entity that should be balancing whether or not the government is making appropriate decisions about surveillance.

Update: David Cole corrected for John.

What shall we condone?

Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri’s lawyers end their letter to Navy Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald–who will decide whether al-Nashiri will face the death penalty–with an appeal to his role in deciding what we as a nation will condone:

One pivotal and constant question has been–what shall we condone? Shall we condone a trial that allows evidence obtained from torture? Shall we condone a trial for a detainee who has been tortured?

Indeed, one of their most surprising arguments was a reminder that his predecessor, Judge Susan Crawford, refused to refer charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani because he had been tortured.

Your predecessor, Judge Susan Crawford, did not refer charges against Mohammed Al-Qahtani for his direct role in the September 11th Attacks because he was tortured. Judge Crawford stated, “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case[.]” Here, the government’s treatment of Mr. Al-Nashiri undoubtedly meets the legal definition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Judge Crawford was able to review the interrogation records and other documents of Mr. Al-Qahtani’s abuse before making her decision. In this case, we assume the CIA has not provided those records to you. Even without the cooperation of the CIA, sufficient evidence has been publicly released to prove that Mr. Al-Nashiri was tortured.


In essence, the United States has lost its moral authority to seek the death penalty. Accordingly, you should not refer charges–or authorize the detah penalty–against Mr. Al-Nashiri.

I find a few things surprising. First, the suggestion that MacDonald has probably not officially been informed of al-Nashiri’s treatment. While I suppose that’s possible (it’s clear, for example, that the CIA limited how much Gitmo personnel learned of former CIA detainees), that would still be surprising.Though of course, at the very least, MacDonald has not seen the video tapes that were destroyed.

Also note that in this passage, at least, al-Nashiri’s lawyers are calling on the government to drop charges entirely against al-Nashiri, based on the Crawford precedent. Not that the appeal will work (because, particularly given that KSM is now slotted for a Gitmo Military Commission, it would take charges and the death penalty for him off the table, too). But it is notable that they asked.

Much of the rest of the letter lays out reasons I expected: al-Nashiri’s torture itself, the CIA’s destruction of exonerating evidence, the dicey appellate record for MCs, the length of time since the alleged crimes and the delay in charging, and the safety restrictions on travel to Yemen now.

And then there’s the predictable objection on legal grounds: al-Nashiri’s lawyers argue that since we weren’t at war when most of his alleged crimes occurred, an MC is an improper venue to try him. Powerfully, they cite Presidents Clinton and Bush to prove we were not at war.

When convened outside areas under martial law or military occupation, military commissions are strictly limited to the punishment of enemy forces for violations of the laws of war committed in the context of and associated with hostilities.

The limitation was affirmatively recognized and enacted by Congress into the Military Commissions Act, when it mandated that “An offense specified in this subchapter is triable by military commission under this chapter only if the offense is committed in the context of and associated with hostilities.

Mind you, the government will cite Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the US in 1996, but it’s hard to see how that refutes President Clinton’s assertion that “America is not at war” delivered in his eulogy to those lost on the USS Cole.

If that’s not enough, though, al-Nashiri’s lawyers now have the legal opinion of Harold Koh’s conditions that define hostilities for Libya.

The question this letter asks–whether we as a country ought to impose the death penalty on someone we tortured–is a key question. But the legal argument may well be just as compelling.

“Terrorists are cowards. Torturers are, too.”

Former Gitmo prosecutor Morris Davis makes, in really powerful fashion, a point I’ve been contemplating: how does Hillary Clinton get off criticizing the torture of Syrian teenager Hamza Ali al-Khateeb or Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad when we have done nothing to hold those who tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani accountable? (h/t Michelle Shephard)

In the fall of 2005, when I was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I sat down for a lengthy discussion with a veteran member of the prosecution team, a Marine Corps officer with an extensive background in criminal prosecution. We discussed a case that caused him concern, one he said he was not comfortable prosecuting. After describing some of the specifics of the detainee’s treatment at Guantanamo, which was documented in official records, the prosecutor said: “Sir, they fucked with him and they fucked with him until now he’s as crazy as a shit-house rat.” In an interview with Bob Woodward published in the Washington Post in January 2009, Susan Crawford, the Bush administration official who supervised the military commissions, explained why she refused to send the same case to trial when it reached her desk in the spring of 2008. “We tortured Qahtani,” she said, “His treatment met the legal definition of torture.”

The alleged torture of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, Syed Saleem Shahzad, and Mohammed al Qahtani by government agents that signed the Convention Against Torture begs the question, is a law that is ignored worth the paper it is written on?

If we want to criticize others for their crimes, Davis argues, then we need to practice what we preach.

Who decides which obligations are truly obligatory and which means go too far to ever justify the ends? Chemical weapons may have been a fast and convenient way to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in the rugged Tora Bora region in late 2001 and may have killed Bin Laden a decade earlier, but is effectiveness, or that it might work, or that others do it justification to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibitions and commit a war crime? If the standard is the United States decides ad hoc which commitments it will honor and which it will not then it should be honest and repudiate those it considers non-binding and the sense to stop the hypocritical criticism of others that fail to live up to its “do as we say, not as we do” example. On the other hand, if the United States means what it says about the rule of law, it has to demonstrate that it practices what it purports to preach.

And he ends by calling on decent people to reclaim our national moral compass.

Do decent human beings have the temerity to stand up and insist the law be enforced? Does the United States have the integrity to lead by example, or has the government engaging in torture become as accepted as government official lying when the truth is inconvenient? We need to find our moral compass.

Go read it.

Is Mukasey Suggesting We Ignored Information Mohammed al-Qahtani Gave Us?

I’ve been having difficulty finding the time to get through the entire AEI torture extravaganza that took place yesterday (“Moderated” by John Yoo). But by the time I read this Greg Sargent piece, I had gotten through the point at about 3 minutes in where Michael Mukasey said,

Was there a memo in the file beforehand [before KSM uttered the name of courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti] that contained that name? Yes, but it was disregarded because it came from somebody insignificant and it was not regarded as significant.

Which in and of itself seems an admission (one reflected in the CIA IG Report) that CIA wasn’t accrediting intelligence from more minor figures adequately in their assessments of efficacy.

But there may be another problem with Mukasey’s statement. According to the NYT, KSM was reported to have been asked about al-Kuwaiti months after his waterboarding, in fall 2003.

And as you may have seen in reporting, al-Kuwaiti’s name comes up in a curious reference in Mohammed al-Qahtani’s Gitmo file. Note I’m showing the quotes themselves and the sources. And as you read this, remember that KU-10024 is KSM’s detainee number, so the email training described involves KSM, al-Kuwaiti, and al-Qahtani.

(S//NF) Detainee received computer training from al-Qaida member Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti in preparation for his mission to the US.

(S//NF) Detainee stated while at Abu Shem’s house in Karachi in July 2001, KU-10024 had al-Kuwaiti teach detainee to send email. KU-10024 informed detainee when someone went on a mission, he would need to know how to send messages and email was safer than talking on the phone. Al-Kuwaiti took detainee to a local internet cafe for his training.42

(S//NF) Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti was a senior al-Qaida facilitator and subordinate of KU-10024. Al-Kuwaiti worked in the al-Qaida media house operated by KU-10024 in Kandahar and served as a courier.43

(S//NF) Al-Qaida facilitator Hassan Ghul stated al-Kuwaiti, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi traveled with UBL.44 (Analyst Note: Al-Kuwaiti was seen in Tora Bora and it is possible al-Kuwaiti was one of the individuals detainee reported accompanying UBL in Tora Bora prior to UBL’s disappearance.)

(S//NF) Detainee stated he was not very skilled in the use of email and al-Kuwaiti told KU-10024 it would be difficult for the detainee to fully understand computers or how to use the internet for the purpose of emailing. (Analyst Note: Detainee attended a computer course in Saudi Arabia and received a certificate upon graduating. It is doubtful detainee would not be able to grasp the concept and procedures necessary for internet email, especially with Arabic websites that offered the service. Detainee stated KU-10024 provided him with a code to use when he reported success obtaining his visa.)45

42 IIR 6 034 1194 03

43 IIR 6 034 0226 05, TD-314/04398-05, TD-314/39130-02

44 TD-314/29012-04, TD-314/30205-04, Analyst Note: For additional information see TD-314/05730-05, IIR 6 034 0226 05, TD-314/45991-05, TD-314/63199-04, TD-314/04398-05, TD-314/56328-04, TD-314/55744-04, TD- 314/49162-04, TD-314/45296-04, TD-314/24351-04, TD-314/04950-04, TD-314/39130-02, IIR 6 034 0760 03

45 IIR 6 034 1194 03, 000063 SIR 30-MAY-2003, IIR 6 034 1205 03 [my emphasis]

First, note the argument they’re making here. To support the claim that Mohammed al-Qahtani must be an important al Qaeda figure, they use his own description of being trained on using email by Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, and then link that up with all the information the folks at Gitmo knew about al-Kuwaiti in 2008, thereby showing associatively that al-Qahtani was being trained by people–KSM and al-Kuwaiti–who had close ties to OBL.

Some of this information to support this argument was obviously collected after al-Qahtani’s earlier interrogations (and notably, after the most intense part of his torture, which lasted from November 23, 2002 to January 15, 2003) and from other detainees. The information about al-Kuwait’s role as a facilitator and courier (see footnote 43) is sourced to two intelligence reports from 2005, and one from 2002. Given that there’s nothing that says al-Qahtani explained this detail himself, that 2002 report might be the report from the detainee held by another country.

Then there’s the intelligence given by Hassan Ghul, dated 2004 (see footnote 44), stating that al-Kuwaiti traveled with OBL. One of the two 2005 reports also cited is one of the same reports named in footnote 45.

It’s the information that came from al-Qahtani himself–which takes the form, “detainee stated”–that’s more interesting. The three pieces of intelligence that appear to come from al-Qahtani (see footnotes 42 and 45) are all dated 2003. More interesting, one of them is named 000063 SIR 30-MAY-2003. The appearance of al-Qahtani’s detainee number, 063, seems confirmation this intelligence came from him. And the report is dated May 30, 2003, at least three months before KSM is reported to have talked about al-Kuwaiti, but more than five months after his torture ended.

Now, it’s possible that al-Qahtani didn’t use al-Kuwaiti’s nickname. But it at least appears that al-Qahtani was using it several months before KSM was. Mind you, he didn’t say anything about al-Kuwaiti traveling with OBL (which came two years later from Hassan Ghul) or being a courier (which may have come from that detainee in another country). Just that some guy with ties to KSM tried to teach him to use email.

Of course, this doesn’t clear up the torture debate at all (aside from the fact that torture is illegal and immoral and, in the case of al-Qahtani, has made it impossible to try him for his presumed role in 9/11). After all, it appears that, like KSM, al-Qahtani started to talk about al-Kuwaiti five months after being tortured. And note, it appears, though is not certain, that al-Qahtani did not give this information to the FBI or DOD before he was tortured, when they didn’t know who he was.

But it does appear to be fatal for Mukasey’s story. It’s one thing to claim that a detainee in some other country is so minor no one paid attention to the intelligence he offered. But you can’t make the claim al-Qahtani–the assumed 20th hijacker–was insignificant.

Which leads to the bigger question: why did it take CIA at least three months after al-Qahtani talked about being trained for 9/11 by al-Kuwaiti before they asked KSM about him?

Tortured Confessions and the Gitmo Protection Orders

An unfortunate side effect of the NYT and NPR’s attempt to preempt WikiLeaks’ embargo on the Gitmo Files is that their coverage–rather than the coverage of those who had been working on the files for several weeks–got the most attention. Notably, McClatchy’s team of Tom Lasseter (who had done a series on Gitmo) and Carol Rosenberg (who knows more about it than anyone) had to scramble to get their first story out.

McClatchy’s [chief of correspondents Mark] Seibel said the WikiLeaks notified him at 5:30 p.m. EST that the embargo was lifted. So McClatchy — and the other news organizations working on the project — needed to scramble to finish their first stories as The Times and NPR put the finishing touches on theirs.

Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for McClatchy’s Miami Herald and one of the foremost authorities on Guantanamo Bay in the press corps, said she was caught off guard by the abrupt change of plans. “All I know is I spent nearly the last month digging through documents and was surprised tonight to learn that the embargo was about to be lifted on two hours notice,” Rosenberg said in an email.

Which is why the topic of their second story is so important. It shows that 8 unreliable detainees, several of whom are known to have been tortured, provided a great deal of the intelligence justifying the continuing detention of Gitmo detainees.

The allegations and observations of just eight detainees were used to help build cases against some 255 men at Guantanamo ­ roughly a third of all who passed through the prison. Yet the testimony of some of the eight was later questioned by Guantanamo analysts themselves, and the others were subjected to interrogation tactics that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and compromised the veracity of their information.

How different would the focus on the Gitmo Files be if the first story about it were about the unreliability of the intelligence in the Detainee Assessment Briefs, rather than how many people labeled “high risk” in those DABs went on to be transferred?

To see background on the people who incriminated many of the other Gitmo detainees, go read the whole article. Meanwhile, I just wanted to point out one point about the Gitmo protection order I described yesterday.

McClatchy notes that Mohammed al-Qahtani–whom Convening Authority Susan Crawford admitted was tortured at Gitmo–provided intelligence against 31 detainees.

Muhammad al Qahtani, a Saudi man whose interrogations reportedly included 20-hour sessions and being led around by a leash, appeared as a source in at least 31 cases. A Guantanamo analyst note about Qahtani acknowledged that “starting in winter 2002/2003, (Qahtani) began retracting statements,” though it argued that based on corroborating information “it is believed that (his) initial admissions were the truth.”At the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the firm that has championed Qahtani’s unlawful detention lawsuit, senior attorney Shane Kadidal said that “the information that was given in the first place (by Qahtani) was not reliable.” As a condition of his security clearance, Kadidal said, he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the WikiLeaks documents.

As they point out, Shane Kadidal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have handled his defense and presumably know a great deal about the intelligence tied to Qahtani. But because DOJ (and surely, DOD) have warned them that speaking about the Gitmo Files leaked by WikiLeaks would be a violation of their protection order, they can’t comment on them.

In effect, in the name of protecting secrets that are already in the public domain, DOJ has gagged the people best able to comment on these issues.

But then, that’s the way our government uses secrecy to stifle informed discussions in this country.

What about Abu Zubaydah?

While I’m glad that Susan Crawford has acknowledged publicly what we all know–that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured (see Spencer’s take here)–I’m just as interested in the questions that "crack reporter" Bob Woodward didn’t ask.

Such as, "Is that the same reason Abu Zubaydah was not charged along with the other 9/11 plotters?"

The answer to that question might raise all sorts of uncomfortable answers, though. After all, Qahtani was not in the same category as the other 9/11 plotters, in either the treatment he received (since it came at Gitmo rather than in black sites overseas, and came while under DOD custody rather than CIA custody), or in his actions (that is, he was stopped short of participating in 9/11, if that was indeed his intent). 

But Abu Zubaydah’s treatment resembles Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s: while in CIA custody at a black site, he was waterboarded, not just once, but a bunch of times.

So if you admitted that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured–and therefore could not be tried–then it would raise questions about why KSM can be charged.

And if those questions were asked, you might have to differentiate between KSM and Zubaydah. KSM–as was made clear in his appearance in the Gitmo show trials–still has his wits about him. Zubdaydah, from all reports, does not.

Or, just as importantly, KSM will happily admit to having done the things we accuse him of. But Zubaydah appears to have been over-sold as the mastermind of the attacks. In fact, if you admitted that Abu Zubaydah admitted to stuff he didn’t really do after having been broken through torture, then you’d have the beginning of the pattern–with Qahtani and Zubaydah–proving that torture doesn’t work.

I’m glad Susan Crawford has finally admitted that we tortured Qahtani and because of that he can’t be charged. But will she have the courage (and the clearance) to admit that about Abu Zubaydah, too?

Why Drop Charges Against Al-Qahtani?

The AP reports that charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani have been dropped, suggesting that charges were dropped because he was tortured.

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.


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

But that’s not right. After all, the remaining 5 detainees were also tortured. Heck, the government has even admitted to water-boarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But he’s still going to get a show trial.

I would suggest that two things contributed to al-Qahtani’s charges being dropped. First, the disqualification of Thomas Hartmann last week may be related. As I suggested in my post on the disqualification, Judge Allred made clear that the charges against Hamdan could go forward because those charges were finalized before Hartmann came on the scene. But the charges in which Hartmann was directly involved–notably of the group of high value detainees that until Friday included al-Qahtani–would be affected. The government is now going to have to prove that those 6 5 detainees would have been charged even without Hartmann making decisions about whether to include evidence gained by torture.

Note that Allred’s decision is dated May 9, Friday, the same day Susan Crawford decided to drop charges against al-Qahtani, so if this was a response to the Hartmann disqualification, it was a very quick response.

But there’s another reason why the charges against al-Qahtani were dropped while KSM will still be charged: evidence that the torture against al-Qahtani didn’t reveal anything. Read more