The U.S. Did Torture, Says Bush Administration Official; A Detainee That Donald Rumsfeld Was Closely Monitoring

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“We do not torture,” President Bush said, in November of 2005.

“This government does not torture people,” the president repeated, in October of 2007.

“On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to,” added Vice President Dick Cheney, just last month.

If Bush and Cheney really believe what they are saying, they now find themselves in disagreement with their own administration. From today’s Washington Post:

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that 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 J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

Previously an Army investigation found that the treatment of Qahtani was “abusive and degrading,” but not quite “torture.” As I reported with Mark Benjamin back in 2006, Qahtani was also “forced to stand naked in front of a female interrogator, was accused of being a homosexual, and was forced to wear women’s underwear and to perform ‘dog tricks’ on a leash. He received 18-to-20-hour interrogations during 48 of 54 days.”

As Benjamin and I also reported, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was closely monitoring the interrogation, according to Army investigator Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt. Rumsfeld was “talking weekly” with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge at Guantanamo. “The secretary of defense is personally involved in the interrogation of one person [Qahtani], and the entire General Counsel system of all the departments of the military,” Schmidt said, in a statement that Benjamin and I obtained. Of Miller’s claim that he did not know all the grisly details of the Qahtani interrogation, Schmidt added, “There is just not a too-busy alibi there for that.” From our article in Salon:

Schmidt said he concluded that Rumsfeld did not specifically prescribe the more “creative” interrogation methods used on [Q]ahtani. But he added that the open-ended policies Rumsfeld approved, and that the apparent lack of supervision of day-to-day interrogations permitted the abusive conduct to take place. “Where is the throttle on this stuff?” asked Schmidt, an Air Force fighter pilot, who said in his interview under oath with the [Army] inspector general that he had concerns about the length and repetition of the harsh interrogation methods. “There were no limits.”

Miller, who later brought interrogation methods from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, was allowed to retire in a ceremony at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes. He was presented with a Distinguished Service Medal.

For more on the interrogation of Qahtani, read the 2005 story that first exposed the abuse, by TIME magazine’s Adam Zagorin and Michael Duffy.