Rumsfeld may be 'Criminally Liable' for Torture


4-17-06, 9:02 am

Just as President Bush announced full support for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the face of a 'revolt of the generals' who have criticized Rumsfeld for faulty leadership of the war in Iraq, documents linking Rumsfeld directly to the abuse of prisoners at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were revealed in the US media.

According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, documents authored by the US Army Inspector General in charge of investigating allegations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay disclosed to media outlets last month through Freedom of Information Act requests show that Rumsfeld and Guantanamo Bay prison camp commander, Major General Geoffrey Miller, closely followed the interrogation of at least one man suspected of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

What the Globe failed to report, however, is that the government's claims that this man, Mohammed Al Qahtani, was involved in the 9/11 attacks were based on statements he made while undergoing abusive treatment, and thus not credible, as argues the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the human rights organization that represents Al Qahtani.

Without commenting on classified material, CCR attorney Gitanjali S. Gutierrez said in a press statement posted to the CCR website that 'The government has recklessly accused Mohammed of many different crimes with no real evidence, just dubious interrogation statements.'

'Now the government's own log proves the statements were extracted through torture – undermining the entire case against Mohammed,' Gutierrez noted. 'The new disclosures reveal that our client was systematically tortured until he would say anything to stop the torment. This should remind Americans that torture is immoral and ineffective in its attempt to produce accurate information.'

The Globe article does corroborate that this high level scrutiny of Al Qahtani's interrogation occurred at the time he was subject to techniques authorized by Rumsfeld later withdrawn because they were found to be in violation of international and US law regarding the treatment of prisoners. According to the Globe, one military interrogator described this treatment as 'degrading and abusive.'

Internal investigations revealed that while Al Qahtani was being closely monitored by Secretary Rumsfeld and General Miller, he was subject to treatment including sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, denied access to toilet facilities to the point of being forced to urinate on himself, exposed to snarling dogs, forced to stand naked in front of female soldiers, to wear women’s clothing and suffer ridicule as a homosexual, and to perform tricks while wearing a dog leash. Military interrogators, with Rumsfeld's authorization, used such illegal techniques to 'break' prisoners believed to be involved in terrorist activities.

The Inspector General's report, based on interviews of military interrogators and Secretary Rumsfeld himself, concluded that not only was Rumsfeld personally involved in the interrogation of Al Qahtani, but that his December 2002 orders authorizing interrogation techniques created an environment where abuse and torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were allowed to occur freely.

The Globe asserts that these documents, which indicate Secretary Rumsfeld and General Miller were closely monitoring Al Qahtani's treatment, may constitute evidence that makes doubtful their later claims that they were unaware of prisoner mistreatment, abuse and torture in US-controlled prisons. Government documents have also revealed that torture techniques widely publicized with the leak of the infamous photos taken by US interrogators at Abu Ghraib were first developed under General Miller's command at US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The revelations of Rumsfeld's personal involvement prompted a strongly worded statement this past week from Human Rights Watch, which also obtained a copy of the interrogation log of Al Qahtani, whom Rumsfeld followed so closely. 'The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it’s whether he should be indicted,' said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch.

The organization's statement went on to say that Human Rights Watch 'believes that the techniques used during Al Qahtani’s interrogation were so abusive that they amounted to torture. '

According to Human Rights Watch, the treatment suffered by Al Qahtani and other prisoners has been declared illegal under US law by military law experts. In 2005, Judge Advocates General of the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps told a Senate Committee that the techniques used violated the US Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. These judge advocates also pointed out that such treatment would be characterized as illegal if applied to US personnel held captive in other countries.

Human Rights Watch suggested that General Miller could also be criminally liable for his role in the development and application of such techniques.

The human rights organization called for an independent investigation, citing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' personal involvement in erroneously declaring such techniques used at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib legal. When such a conflict of interest exists, Department of Justice regulations require the appointment of a special prosecutor with no ties to the government.

Current and former military personnel critical of the techniques authorized and overseen by Rumsfeld and Miller are concerned that by eliminating or weakening international and US laws and regulations prohibiting torture and abusive treatment, the Bush administration could be allowing similar treatment of US military and civilian captives caught in future conflicts to be regarded as justifiable and legal.

For example, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Fox News interviewer just weeks after the revelations about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004 that: I have always been a strong believer in the need to treat those who we now have custody of as an act of war and they’re now our responsibility with respect and accordance with international obligations that we have under the Geneva Convention and other international laws. And even if the Geneva Convention does not directly apply in terms of individuals being illegal combatants and not prisoners of war, we still have an obligation to treat them humanely, consistent with international standards. And that's been my position because that's the way we want our troops to be treated if they are captured.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at